London Assembly member slams new City Hall ‘snags’

Cracks, leaks, high temperatures and insufficient desk space highlighted but mayor insists the problems are being addressed, reports Noah Vickers, Local Democracy Reporter

City Hall (credit GLA)
City Hall (credit GLA)

Sadiq Khan’s new City Hall headquarters has suffered from several “snags” including leaks, floor cracks and uncomfortably high temperatures, a London politician has warned.

London Assembly member Leonie Cooper said heat levels inside City Hall’s new base in the Royal Docks have been a particular issue for staff members experiencing the menopause.

In a letter to the Greater London Authority’s (GLA) chief officer Mary Harpley, Cooper said other problems include a shortage of dedicated desk spaces and that there was lingering uncertainty over the costs of the move.

A spokesperson for Khan said the facilities management team “has been working hard to resolve temperature control and other snags”.

In a bid to cut costs, the GLA moved last year from its previous central London home to a conference centre called The Crystal in East London. But Cooper, a Labour member who formerly chaired City Hall’s oversight committee, said there were a number of continuing issues with the new headquarters.

She said that the building’s chamber – used by the London Assembly for its meetings, including the monthly Mayor’s Question Time sessions – had been particularly prone to overheating.

Cooper wrote: “The mayor launched his menopause policy in March 2023 and committed to ensuring that the working environment is comfortable wherever possible. A year is an unacceptably long time for GLA staff to be working in such uncomfortable circumstances.”

She said the GLA should be “a leading example to other organisations in London in terms of providing menopause support” and that the mayor “must urgently prioritise” resolving the temperature issues.

She added that staff had separately raised concerns over the last year around “unfinished or poor facilities” as well as “leaks, drafts and condensation”.

At an oversight committee meeting in March, members were told that there were “hairline cracks” in the floor of ‘London’s Living Room’ – the main events space in the new building.

Cooper also wrote: “The committee remains concerned about the availability of desks at City Hall with some ‘anchor points’ [allocated desks for each team] limited to 10% of the size of the team.

“The committee understands that with a 10% allocation of desks, it is a strong possibility that most members of a team would be regularly based at drop-in desks. This approach would not appear to take account of particular needs or pressures on certain areas of the organisation which need a more regular presence in City Hall.

“Staff have raised issues with the anchor points system, the number of workspaces available, difficulty in finding workspaces to sit with their teams, and lack of plug sockets available.”

The GLA was previously based in a purpose-built headquarters by Tower Bridge, designed by Lord Norman Foster and opened by the Queen in 2002.

But in 2020 the building was reported to be costing the organisation £11.1m a year, including rent to the private landlord, Kuwaiti-owned St Martin’s, plus service charges and rates. This was due to rise to £12.6m a year after Christmas 2021.

The decision to move the GLA’s headquarters to The Crystal – which it owned – was made by the mayor in 2020. He said that it would “save £55m over five years, which would help us to protect and invest in the things that matter most to Londoners, as well as supporting the regeneration of the Royal Docks”.

The first meeting in the new City Hall took place in January 2022, but it did not fully open until March of that year. Many AMs believe the move from central London has diminished the GLA’s status.

It emerged in April this year that the total cost of converting The Crystal had reached £25.5m. An additional £4.6m had also been spent in “landlord costs” – but the mayor’s aides said this would have been incurred regardless of which organisation had moved into the building.

A spokesperson for the mayor said at the time that the relocation was now expected to save £58m over five years, which “includes a higher level of one-off costs than previously expected, but is still £3m more than when initially forecasted when Sadiq announced the proposals in June 2020”.

Nonetheless, Cooper wrote this week: “The committee is concerned about the transparency of the full costs of the relocation to the GLA group and asks that a full list is provided of all additional costs, and that all related costs are clearly reflected in future reports of relocation savings to this committee.”

A spokesperson for the mayor said in response to Cooper’s letter: “The relocation of City Hall to the Royal Docks is saving £58m over five years. This saving is being invested in London’s recovery from the pandemic and protecting vital services including policing, London Fire Brigade and the transport network.

“City Hall staff have a combination of different buildings available for their use, and there is sufficient space for staff on that basis.

“The new City Hall has been designed as a truly inclusive workplace and the facilities management team has been working hard to resolve temperature control and other snags. Many of these have been addressed now.”

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