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Tate Modern draws veil of secrecy over extension issues

  • 4 Comments

Tate Modern is still refusing to reveal details of the problems on its much-delayed and over-budget £260 million extension more than a year after the landmark building opened

Responding to a Freedom of Information request by the AJ, the gallery released a heavily redacted response relating to Herzog & de Meuron’s Switch House building, which finally opened in June 2016 - four years late and more than £45 million over first cost estimates.

The Tate, which has used taxpayers’ money on the project and is accountable to the public via Parliament, has always kept the exact reasons for the overspend under wraps.

Now, heavily censored documents obtained by the AJ show that the public authority remains determined to keep a lid on why the project was not delivered as originally planned.

Minutes from three board of trustees meetings held between July 2013 and July 2015 were obtained by the AJ following an internal review of a Freedom of Information request made to the Tate last summer.

In the redacted document, the Tate, which is also currently embroiled in a court case with residents of nearby Neo Bankside, exempts much of the information relating to risks to the project’s delivery, timescale and funding. The Tate is continuing to claim that this information ‘would, or would likely to, prejudice the commercial interests of any person (including the public authority holding it)’.

#611 internal rerview material sent 1

#611 internal rerview material sent 1

Page from the redacted minutes of Tate board of trustees meeting

But speaking to the AJ, Maurice Frankel, director of the Campaign for Freedom of Information, said he was confused as to why the Tate wanted to keep the information from the public, especially now the building was finished.

He said it was ‘not obvious’ why the minutes from the meetings ‘should be commercially sensitive, particularly as the project is complete’.

Referring to risks to the project highlighted in the November 2014 meeting, he said: ‘There may have been risks at the time these minutes were written, but those risks would have been long in the past by the time they did the internal review.

‘So is it really harmful to commercial interests of the Tate, the contractors or the architects and designers?’

He added: ‘Where there is a large overspend by a public authority, there’s a public interest in knowing what’s going on and whether appropriate lessons may be learned for the future.’

However, the parts of the minutes that have not been redacted give some hints of the issues, including the complexity of the brickwork façade and government funding.

In the July 2013 meeting, it reads that ‘trustees discussed risk associated with the brickwork façade’ and, in the November 2014 meeting, ‘trustees noted the complex nature of the brickwork installation’.

The minutes from the July 2013 meeting also state: ‘It was noted that the superstructure is 50 per cent complete, and that this is one of the biggest areas of risk in the project.’

Later on in the same meeting, the minutes read: ‘It was discussed that a significant risk to completing the project on time would be any changes to the design of the new building during fit-out.’

In the minutes for the November 2014 meeting, it is reported that the project was on track to complete by March 2016 ‘with small slippage that has been mitigated through flexible programming without design change’.

The same meeting noted that an update from the Major Projects Authority – now known as the Infrastructure and Projects Authority – said there was an ‘outstanding issue’ as to ‘whether or not the government would commit to the required uplift in Grant in Aid, without which planning cannot continue’. However, it noted that it was ‘hoped that support will be forthcoming’.

In the third meeting, in July 2015, the building was still scheduled for completion in March 2016. The minutes note that the overall figure for the building was £255.5 million, but that ‘more certain projections of the final figure can be expected over the summer’.

Regarding the façade and brickwork, it was noted that there was ‘improvement in the project, and that the team has worked hard to mitigate the risk, with the contractor doing everything possible to achieve targets’.

In 2015, Tate director Nicholas Serota attributed the project’s soaring costs to a sharp rise in building cost inflation in London as well as a broadening of the project’s scope to include refurbishment of the existing gallery.

The Tate defended its decision not to release unredacted minutes of the meetings in a letter accompanying its internal review response. ‘While we uphold certain of the exemptions, certain information is released further to the response that you received previously,’ it wrote.

A Tate spokesperson added: ‘The letters outline and explain the exemptions we applied according to the terms of the act.’

Following the Tate’s internal review of the AJ’s Freedom of Information request, the case will now be considered independently by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

In May last year, the ICO withdrew its support for the Tate, which had been refusing to reveal the amount of funding it received from oil company BP, following a hearing. The ICO retracted its support for the public authority when it failed to prove how the disclosure of this information would prejudice negotiations with other fundraisers.

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Readers' comments (4)

  • Chris Rogers

    Interesting, given the variable quality of the brickwork is one of the obvious flaws of the finished product.

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  • A big chunk of this extension ,which has little new exhibition space, is occupied by a lavish restaurant that could have accounted for about 20% of floor space that equates to £50million of this inflated budget.
    As more and more prime floor space of publicly funded arts projects are consumed by f&b and gift shops that attempt to maximise the retail take from visitors, leaving nothing left for shops and restaurants in the neighbourhood, raises the question of the role of art centres within urban areas. Art should be the foci of regeneration able to animate the public realm but get saddled with exorbitant constructions budgets demanded by egotistical starchitects which then need vast gift shops and cafes to help defray costs.

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  • Architects should compare the coffee-stained treads, cheapo handrails and grubby walls of the extension's staircase with the far higher quality and therefore wear-resistant finishes to the existing stairwells. An all fur coat and no knickers building.

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  • The circulation in the new extension does not work - there are always long waits for the lifts. It is an over complicated building providing little new space, what a lost opportunity.

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