HC Deb 10 February 1871 vol 204 cc120-2

asked the First Commissioner of Works, What was the cause of the delay in commencing the building of the New Courts of Justice?


, in reply, said, he was not surprised at the Question of the hon. Gentleman, considering the interest he had taken in the subject, and the extraordinary statements which had been persistently repeated during the Recess — that in consequence of his (Mr. Ayrton's) dislike and opposition to the present scheme for building the new Law Courts, he had done his best to prevent the commencement of the work. The project for the erection of the building was submitted to the House by the hon. and learned Member for Richmond (Sir Roundell Palmer) six years ago. The proposition was that the Government should purchase the site at a cost of £750,000, and should erect the new Courts of Justice upon it, at a cost of a similar sum. Commissioners were appointed to give their sanction to the details of the project, and to give their guarantee to the House that the expenditure on the whole should not exceed £1,500,000. When that plan was brought before the House he (Mr. Ayrton) gave it his earnest support, and urged the House to carry it into effect at the earliest possible period. But the Commissioners, instead of acting in conformity with the statute, after giving the guarantee required, proceeded to entertain a project which resulted in their adopting a scheme, which would involve an expenditure of £3,250,000, in place of the sum originally contemplated. That scheme was found to a certain extent matured when Her Majesty's present Government succeeded to Office; but, in consequence of the discussions which were then raised, nothing was done for a year: and it was not until the Christmas before last that he was requested to take steps to induce the Commissioners, and all parties concerned, to adopt some plan to give effect to the intentions which Parliament had expressed in the Act they had passed. Now, it would have been almost easier to have begun de novo than to have reduced the scheme from the dimensions of £3,250,000 to which it had swollen—and in the meanwhile the purchases of land had expanded to £900,000—to its original dimensions of £1,500,000: but, after going into all the details, they were able to bring the project for the building itself within the original compass. Still difficulties arose in reference to the construction, which were so serious that as early as March he (Mr. Ayrton) suggested to the architect that he must radically change his plan if he were to conform to the wishes of Parliament. The architect exerted all his skill and ingenuity to carry out his own design; but in July he came to the conclusion that it would be better to take the course which he (Mr. Ayrton) had suggested months before, and prepared a revised plan. In August last the Commissioners signed their Report approving of the revised plan, and it was sent to him from the Treasury with the request that he would take the necessary steps to carry it into effect. The first question he had to consider was what was to be the duty of the architect, who would be responsible to the Government and to Parliament that the plan would be carried out for the sum that Parliament had thought fit to provide. It was not until the end of September that a formal contract was made with the architect, clearly defining his duties and his relations to the Office of Works; and directions were immediately thereon given to prepare a sketch plan. The architect stated that it was impossible to do that before the 1st January last, and that working plans could not be prepared before the 1st July. In order that no delay should take place in proceeding with the work, he (Mr. Ayrton) requested the architect to prepare immediately specifications in order to lay in the foundation, and to get the ground ready for the superstructure. At the end of November, while the sketch plan was in progress, the specifications were sent in, and tenders for this part of the work were invited, on the condition that it should be completed by September next. It required some time for the builders to ascertain what was the work for which tenders were asked; but as soon as they were aware of the nature and extent of the work, they protested against the shortness of time allowed them for its completion. In consequence the time was extended from the 1st September to 1st February, when the foundation would be completed. He did not think that this would lead to any delay in the erection of the building, because in the meantime all the working drawings and preliminary steps for the superstructure would be going on. The contractors were to go on pari passþ with the preparation of the working plans and drawings, so that the moment the foundations were completed they would be in a position to ask for tenders for the whole work. So desirous were the Government to have the work carried out properly and promptly, that notice had been given for the purchase of additional land that would be required. The result would be that—apart from the additional expense in the purchase of land, which could not be avoided—the building would be erected for the sum originally proposed—namely, £750,000, and he ventured to assert that it would be a more useful building, and better in every respect, than it would have been if the vast expenditure which the Government had checked had been incurred.