Cost of ‘Lutfur’s palace’ council HQ rises by £15m due to 'phenomenal' amounts of asbestos

The cost of plans to transform the former Royal London Hospitalinto a town hall have ballooned by £15 million after the building was found to contain “phenomenal” amounts of asbestos. 

Preliminary work on the new civic centre for Tower Hamlets in Whitechapel Road revealed “unprecedented” amounts of the dangerous material, according to mayor John Biggs. 

The project aims to transform what was once the largest hospital in the country into offices for council staff by 2022. The site was bought from Barts Health NHS Trust for £9 million three years ago by the borough’s disgraced former mayor Lutfur Rahman. 

At the time the scheme was criticised as his vanity project and dubbed “Lutfur’s palace”. It was initially given a £77 million budget. Mr Rahman was forced from office for electoral fraud in 2015 and the new administration re-examined the costs and allocated £105 million for the project. 

Tower Hamlets has insisted it will eventually save money but has faced criticism for its rising costs in one of London’s most deprived boroughs. The council expects to recoup an estimated £78 million from the sale of existing offices to be converted into homes and save £5 million a year in rent costs on its civic centre base in Poplar. 

Labour-led Tower Hamlets has been forced to increase the scheme’s budget to £120 million to strip the Grade II listed building “down to the brick”.

The renovation will retain the building’s listed facade. Mr Biggs said: “We were just unlucky that it appears to have more asbestos per square foot than anywhere in the known universe. But now this is sorted we can just get on and build it.”
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