Council's secret payment for Spinnaker Tower's broken lift

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Portsmouth City Council has come under fire for hiding how much cash it will hand over to pay for Spinnaker Tower's broken lift.

The council's officers are keeping details of its final payment to building firm Carillion secret from the city's residents and even the majority of its own councillors.

In 2006, the council's strategic director Roger Ching held back 250,000 of the 30.675m fee for Carillion's construction of the iconic tower on the grounds that the external lift was does not work.

But, after years of legal wrangling over the withheld cash, Mr Ching has finally given in to pay off Carillion.

This is despite the fact that the lift - which broke down at the tower's opening ceremony in October 2005 - is still out of action,

The out-of-court settlement is understood to set taxpayers back 200,000.Council chiefs refused to confirm the figure.

Mr Ching said: 'We can't allow details to become public because it may jeopardise the negotiations we've made.'

Bizarrely, to avoid the sum being leaked to The News, most city councillors do not know the true cost of the settlement.

Only the leaders of each political party were entrusted with the information at the time of a vote on whether to hand over the cash to Carillion.

To ease councillor's concerns, a last-minute amendment was passed stating the payment 'will not be in excess of 200,000.'

All Lib Dem and Labour councillors voted in favour of paying off Carillion. All Conservatives abstained from the vote.

Tory councillor Donna Jones said: 'It's ridiculous to expect us to make a decision if we don't know what we're voting on.'

Cllr Alistair Thompson added: 'I hate the way the council exempts information.

'They are spending taxpayers' money - they need to know how much.

'Commercial sensitivities are understandable, but exemption shouldn't be used to save the council embarrassment.'

The News asked council leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson to explain why Portsmouth should fork out for a broken lift.

He said: 'The council and Carillion disagree on what a working lift means.

'They say we have a working lift but we say it's reliability isn't high enough for it to be used.

'But a decision was made that it's better to come to an agreement with Carillion rather than go to court over it at greater expense to council tax payers.'

TOWER GIVEN A LIFT BY MAINTENANCE FUND

Once the council has made its payment to Carillion, it will begin arrangements to repair the Spinnaker Tower lift.

Engineers from across the UK have already visited to diagnose the main problems which have seen the lift declared unreliable and unusable by Spinnaker's managers Heritage, and the council's Strategic Director Roger Ching confirmed a report on repairs would be given to councillors in the summer.

Council leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson said: 'The work we'd do would be to change and upgrade the lift's doors and control panel. The panel works, but it's hard to use it to find out what goes wrong when it does.'

Since Spinnaker Tower opened in October 2005, the council has set aside money from its profits for building maintenance.

It will upgrade the lift using this fund, though work may not be completed before early 2011 at the earliest.

Councillor Vernon-Jackson said: 'It will take four months for us to get the parts we need, and we don't want to be doing the work at a busy time for tourism, so it may take a while. But that will be our priority now for the Tower.'

Juliana Delaney, Heritage's chief executive, said: 'Our main priority is making sure the external panoramic viewing lift is in full operation, because it will add to visitors' experience at the tower. We want the tower to be even better than it already is.'

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