Random musings from the front line (well, more like the support trench, or perhaps the castle 10 miles away, supping Chateau Lafite with the General Staff) in the battle for curiosity, inertia, grammar and a Dachshund called Colin.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

The Spinnaker Tower

Click here for the official propaganda website. You'll notice no references to 'late' or 'farce'!Down South, near where I live, is one of the most impressive sights in the country, a civil engineering project that so neatly encapsulates everything that is right about modern Britain, and so much more that is wrong with it, that the building in question could almost be described as the British equivalent of a Francois Mitterand Grand Projet. This particular construction started life named "The Millennium Tower", as it was originally due to open in time for New Year's Eve 1999 (remember then?) but owing to seemingly endless wranglings about cost, construction timetabling, the local council's contribution and contractual negotiations, it still has not yet opened, and had to be renamed the "Spinnaker Tower" sometime in 2002. However, the last builder's crane was dismantled and removed last month and to all intents and purposes, it is now finished and ... despite the farce of its inception, I think it looks stunningly beautiful. But then I would - I paid for the bloody thing through vastly inflated Council Tax bills, so I suppose I have a sort of paternal indulgence towards what the local paper now calls The Tower of Dreams. There's even a Wikipedia entry about it - fame indeed!

Ever since the world's noisiest pile drivers started to pummel enormous metal tubes into the soft mud of the harbour in 2001, thus keeping everyone within 10 miles wide awake in daylight hours (great for wage slaves, not too good for shift workers), it became clear that the tower would dominate the city in more ways than one. Lo, in mid-2003, about half way through construction, the builders apparently pulled off a particularly dirty (but completely legal) trick, by saying to the council "It's costing us more than we thought so pay us more money so we make a profit".

The council, quite properly, replied "Piss off - the cost is in the contract, tough luck".

To which the builders replied "OK then, we'll walk away then. But then you'll have to pay back the National Lottery Millennium Commission the £10 million they gave you to build the thing".

Which, unfortunately, turned out to be correct thanks to a particularly badly written contract. Therefore, because the council had already paid this money up front to the builders, bizarrely it was cheaper to pay the builders' ransom demand, and finish building the tower, rather than doing what you normally do with rogue tradesmen and sacking them halfway through. And where did this extra money come from? That'd be the council-taxpayer then, thus ensuring that the 2004 council tax went up 26% in one year. Nice. I hope the directors and shareholders of Mowlem appreciate my generosity in funding their bonuses last year. But I doubt it...

Isn't it nice? Pay your council tax and enjoy, local types... (click on this photo for webcam image from BBC)

So, almost 6 years late, £9 million over budget (originally £16.5m, now £25m and rising!), the tower was due to open at a massive August Bank Holiday gala opening this summer. Local "heroes" (you know, 'kidz', local 100 year olds, nurses, lollipop ladies etc) were all invited to the official ceremony (and high rise party afterwards) and 2 days beforehand flunkies were even polishing the railings around the shiny new entrance hall into it. But guess what? No one had invited the Orwellian Thought Police of Tony Blair's New Britain - the all powerful Health & Safety Executive (HSE, not to be confused with BSE, but causing similar symptoms).

In what could be perceived as the ultimate in party pooping - the HSE decided that one of the two lifts wasn't safe as it "goes round a corner" (actually a slight kink) and they had never come across a glass lift that did that. So they couldn't give it a safety certificate. And therefore, despite the fact that there is another lift (with a certificate), and a working stairwell, and with 2 days notice, the council had no choice but to cancel the opening, and keep the tower closed to the public. Which it still is. So the poor 'kidz' have to wait another year. Tower of Dreams my arse.

Still, isn't it pretty?

13 Rants & Replies:

Blogger patroclus said...

Aha, so that explains your tagline (which I always want to fix so it sits on one line - damn my subeditor-y instincts).

And yes, it looks lovely. You must be very proud. And impecunious.

9:49 pm, September 22, 2005

Blogger Merkin said...

Damn indeed! Which tagline though? The title of the blog is from Sir Henry Newbolt, but if you want I can ask him if he'll shorten his poem!

But congratulations on the comment - only 1 minute after I posted the blog...

9:56 pm, September 22, 2005

Blogger patroclus said...

Yes, I should have known better than to have you down as the footballing type.

I was more thinking about tweaking the font size a bit...

10:56 am, September 23, 2005

Blogger garfer said...

Not a very phallic tower, but I'm sure it'll inspire some oddly shaped dildos anyway.

12:44 pm, September 23, 2005

Blogger WordWhiz said...

Very pretty!!

4:17 am, September 27, 2005

Blogger WordWhiz said...

HEY...Did you see my friend, Steve, when you were there?? Check this out!


4:08 pm, September 27, 2005

Blogger Merkin said...

On my way over.... what a coincidence!

4:18 pm, September 27, 2005

Blogger Aginoth said...

Mowlem got to love em...search on the web for the debacle that is the Bath Spa Project...massively over budget, late, and Mowlem have been told to Foxtrot Oscar by bath City Council.

Still at least your monumental erection is impressive

9:09 pm, September 27, 2005

Blogger Mark Gamon said...

Spinnaker Tower is a MUCH better name than Millenium Tower. I'm glad they took their time. I'd come and see it, but I suspect it'll be like the Angel of the North and I'll forget it exists until I get invited to a meeting down your way. And then I'll go all 'oooh golly I heard about that somewhere it must have been on the Merkin's blog.' And everyone will know immediately what I'm talking about.

3:57 pm, September 28, 2005

Blogger Merkin said...

If you do ever find yourself in a meeting down here, Mark, you will get to see the Council's previous way of spending my council tax, the much heralded equivalent to the Angel of the North ... yes, Portsmouth has the "Sails of the South". Basically, they're crap metal sails stuck in the central reservation of the M275. What visual treats you have in store for your visit!

6:22 pm, September 28, 2005

Blogger Steve said...

I have to say I very much enjoyed my visit to Portsmouth :-)

Pretty astonishing coincidence this, on the posting front.

If it's any consolation, your money has been well spent! Although, granted, a little less of it would have been nice.

It is WELL worth a visit - in fact, once it is open I will be coming back for another go.

10:52 pm, September 29, 2005

Blogger Merkin said...

I'm still looking for an influential council worker to chat up/bribe for my visit. The first few weeks of opening to the public will be manic, so it'd be nice to get the "sneak preview". Like you did! Green with envy, moi? Oui.

10:55 am, September 30, 2005

Blogger Merkin said...

Just for the matter of public record.. it opened today .. and promptly marooned the Council bigwigs half way up in the lift.

ha ha ha ha ha ha ha HA!


4:52 pm, October 18, 2005


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