The owner and insurer of the Brighton Seafront Hotel will be held responsible for the expenses.

More than £500,000 will be spent demolishing the fire-ravaged section of the Royal Albion Hotel on Brighton seafront and making the site safe, the council said today (Wednesday, August 2). 

Brighton and Hove City Council took charge of the site once the fire was out because it was “too risky” to leave the work to the owner, Britannia Hotels, according to an official report. 

The report to senior councillors stated: “The need to protect public safety and act immediately means the council had to use its powers under the Building Act 1984."

It was deemed too risky to decide against using those powers and simply hope that the hotel owners would act quickly enough to order the demolition.

The report states that the council hired structural engineering professionals from Hemsley Orrell Partnership and Dorton Demolition, both of Burgess Hill (HOP). 

Both contractors have a track record of delivering for the council and have experience with demolition following fires, it continued. On Monday, July 17, two days after the fire started, the council scheduled a meeting. 

It informed Britannia that it would take action to make dangerous buildings safe by using its authority under Section 78 of the Building Act. 

According to the report, the Britannia Hotels representative was informed that the local government must comply with the act's requirements. and carry out the necessary clearing and demolition work to make the building safe, and the hotel owners would be liable for any associated costs.

“This was acknowledged by the hotel owner’s representative on site and was followed up in writing to the building owners. “Dorton is charging the nationally recognised day rates for demolition as set out by the National Federation of Demolition Contractors."

“During the first week on-site, the scale of the demolition required became evident, and the total cost for all the works until the handover stage is likely to exceed £500,000." 

Given the potential cost and significance of the event and its impact on the city, it was considered that this major incident has corporate financial and possibly policy implications.

“All work that has been commissioned is the minimum necessary to ensure public safety, while also being mindful of the need to protect as much as possible of the fabric and features of the listed building. The hotel structure has been collapsing inside the exclusion zone, and the council has been taking all steps required to prevent debris landing on surrounding buildings and the A259.” 

The report said: “Under Section 78 of the Building Act 1984, any local authority is entitled to take remedial steps in relation to a dangerous building." 

There is no definition of dangerous. There is a persistent risk to nearby buildings, onlookers, and the highway, according to the officers, who think that this building would be dangerous under all circumstances. 

The only thing reducing the risk to people at this time is the area's cordoning off. Highways and property are still at risk.

“The council was legally entitled to commission demolition and other works. Section 78 also provides that any expenses reasonably incurred in carrying out the works under the section may be recovered from the owner of the property.”

According to the report given to the council's Strategy, Finance, and City Regeneration Committee, the council had hired technical experts from the international construction management firm MGAC, which has offices in Brighton and Hove. MGAC was "commissioned to provide cost analysis advice and to provide contract type and scope recommendations."

The report to councillors said: “The council has been moving quickly to get Dorton and HOP under a formal written contract, again covering just the minimum works necessary for public safety.“

Once the building has been made safe through demolition, propping, and site hoarding, the exclusion zone around the hotel will be reduced to the minimum size possible, and the site will be handed back to Britannia Hotels. 

“This would be at the appropriate time once all necessary steps under Section 78 have been completed. “Officers are already actively seeking repayment of all costs incurred from Britannia Hotels—not just the costs of the contracts set out in this report but also technical support and officer time."

The long-term future of the site will involve applications for planning and listed building consent, and the council will encourage the hotel owners to consult widely with the community as part of the preparation of new plans. 

"Steps have been taken to preserve salvaged heritage elements of the building, ensuring they can be reused. As well as having a heritage benefit, this also reduces the embodied carbon of replacement parts.”

Nine apartments in the adjacent Lace House and eight apartments in the Youth Hotels Association (YHA) building had to be abandoned during the weekend evacuation due to the fire. 

The report said: “These residents are still out of their homes, and they have been facing a very difficult time. “The council set up a route through to our in-house ‘community hub’ where residents can receive updates if they make themselves known to our switchboard staff. “So far, officers have made contact with residents from seven of the eight YHA flats and three of the nine from Lace House. “

The burned-out top floor of the hotel's north elevation will need to be cleared during August before the locals can move back into their houses, per technical advice.

“All of the factors set out in this report add up to make for what was an extremely challenging and dynamic situation, which means that decisions have had to be taken on the ground to prioritise public safety on our seafront. “Only the very minimum works required are being undertaken, and all steps will be taken to protect the public purse and minimise expenditure at risk." 

The use of officer urgency powers in this case primarily concerns public safety, but the intention is clearly for all costs to be recovered through Britannia Hotels and its insurers. 

“Provided this proves to be the case and all costs are recovered, the main impact for the council is, therefore, a cash flow consideration." 

The council’s cash balances are normally very substantial—many millions—but they are often invested in short- and medium-term investments. 

The council does, however, have enough cash on hand to cover this order's expenses. 

“The key potential loss to the council, assuming ultimate recovery of all expenses, is the interest on cash balances forgone. “In the current higher interest rate environment, the council would forgo interest of approximately £2,000 to £4,000 for each month it takes to recover monies from the insurer, but the council will request interim payments to mitigate this." 

Although unlikely, the possibility of non-recovery must also be considered, and this would require the council to identify one-off resources or capital financing in order to provide for any unrecovered sums.”

The report also addressed fears about asbestos risks, saying: “There was a concern raised at the time of the fire about possible asbestos in the building." 

Only the textured ceiling coatings used in the building were known to contain asbestos. When asbestos fibres are inhaled after becoming airborne, they pose a risk. “The great majority of asbestos fibres are held tightly within the asbestos-containing material and are not readily released into the air during a fire. Long-term health effects from asbestos generally occur in those who have been directly exposed by inhaling large quantities of asbestos fibres over a long period of time, such as in an occupational setting.” 

Council members are urged in the report to take note of the actions already taken and give the go-ahead for officials to sign contracts, finish the demolition and ensure the building's safety. 

It asks for formal permission to recover the cost of the work and “to take all other steps necessary or incidental to securing the safety of the public and the building”. 

The council’s Strategy, Finance and City Regeneration Committee is due to meet at Hove Town Hall at 2 pm on Friday (4 August).

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