Shetland Arts and its building contractors DITT have traded public jibes after it emerged that cinema and music venue Mareel is unlikely to open its doors until July.
In the latest in a string of setbacks to have plagued the building’s lengthy construction phase, Shetland Arts this morning released a strongly-worded statement declaring it was “disappointed” after been informed by DITT that there would be a further delay of 25 days in handing the building over.
In an equally sharp riposte, DITT blamed Shetland Arts’ design team, architects Gareth Hoskins, for prompting the fresh delay by requesting “significant changes” to the work the Lerwick-based construction firm was expected to carry out.
Towards the end of 2011, DITT gave Shetland Arts a completion date of 30th April this year. But following a site progress meeting last Tuesday the handover has now been pushed back to 25th May.
In December, Shetland Arts director Gwilym Gibbons announced an official opening date of 24th May 2012 having received confirmation of the initial handover date from DITT in mid-November.
Shetland Arts said it would not be in a position to confirm bookings for events until it has the keys to a finished building. It does not anticipate any events taking place until six to eight weeks after completion – leaving cinema-goers and music fans frustrated until mid or late July.
Construction work on the £12.2 million North Ness venue began in May 2009 and it was initially hoped it would be ready in spring 2011. The construction phase now looks likely to exceed three years.
Following a recent story in The Shetland Times indicating another hold-up was on the cards, Shetland Arts’ latest statement accused DITT of being “unprofessional” by choosing to “play out contractual issues within the public arena”. Specific aspects of construction should be dealt with “through due process between Shetland Arts, our professional advisers, and our contractor”, it said.
DITT’s directors retorted by saying they were “disappointed in the tone and content” of Shetland Arts’ statement. It is a sign of rising tensions between the client and contractor, which have been bubbling under the surface for some time.
The response, issued by DITT director Peter Tait, read: “They [Shetland Arts] state that they do not wish to play out contractual issues within the public arena, but by their actions today have chosen to do so.
“Whilst a date was given to Shetland Arts regarding a completion date, the arts trust have conveniently chosen to ignore the fact that the date was subject to no further instructions or additional works being instructed by their design team.
“Disappointingly for the progress of the project, since 14th November a number of significant changes have been instructed. Design changes at this stage of a project inevitably impact on the completion date.”
The fall-out raises fresh questions about who will have to pick up the tab for the potentially costly delays. Shetland Arts has long insisted that there will be no significant overrun of its fixed budget for the project’s construction cost, while DITT’s statement added: “We are entirely confident that we are fulfilling our obligations under the terms of the contract.”
Recognising that there are “many rumours circulating regarding the reasons for construction delays”, Shetland Arts said discussing the reasons for the latest setback would be “unhelpful” and that its staff and trustees would make no further comment at this stage.
The organisation’s chairman Jim Johnston gave his backing to Mr Gibbons and his staff as they seek to hold DITT to their contractual obligations, adding: “We are frustrated by the announcement of further delays; however we will continue to strive towards delivering a venue of which we can all be proud.”
Because Shetland Arts does not have a “detailed and fully completed programme of works”, it said it could not be sure whether the building will be completed by 25th May. “The period of delay to date and changing picture gives Shetland Arts concern,” it said.
The statement continued: “Although Shetland Arts would like at times to contest what is being said and offer counter factual information, we believe that such action would be unhelpful, given our desire to see a building completed to the standard for which DITT Construction Ltd are known, in as quick a time as possible.”
Earlier this month music promoter Davie Gardner strongly criticised Shetland Arts, saying the picture of uncertainty made it difficult for him to make concrete plans for events in the second half of this year.
In its statement Shetland Arts acknowledged it was “very difficult” for promoters to “have faith in the dates we offer”.
It continued: “In order to reduce further distress to those who wish to use the building and for Shetland Arts to mitigate loss wherever possible, we will now only confirm bookings for events after practical completion is certified, which will likely result in the first events taking place in Mareel six to eight weeks after the keys have been handed over.”