Lincolnshire County Council has suffered costly defeat in its bid to sue architects over alleged design flaws in a science block extension at Boston Grammar School.
The council claimed the block was hit by severe rising damp after it was completed in 2003 as a result of ‘various problems’ in Mouchel Business Services Ltd’s designs for the project.
The council, which relinquished control of the school last year when it achieved academy status, launched legal action against Mouchel, who vehemently denied liability for the problems.
Now top judge, Mr Justice Stuart-Smith, has struck out the council’s tardy claim, due to its unnacceptable delays in pursuing the matter.
The judge said the council had ‘diced with procedural death’ by issuing its claim just before the expiry of a legal time limit and then delaying further before serving crucial court documents on Mouchel.
The decision leaves Lincolnshire - which had attacked aspects of the extension’s design as ‘fundamentally flawed’ - facing what are likely to be substantial legal costs bills.
The council had pointed to ‘various’ alleged problems with the extension, including “a failure to seal sheets of the damp proof membrane together or to the damp proof course and the failure to implement a suitable slope away from the outside of the building”.
It also asserted that a “failure to incorporate a ‘step’ or ‘toe’ in the design of the concrete raft to prevent water pooling on top of the concrete slab” contributed to the problems.
However, Mouchel denied responsibility when the council wrote to them to complain in early 2010.
The firm said the extension’s issues may have arisen because it was low-lying, had foundations designed to avoid ground disturbance, had a floor that was partially level with external ground or simply because of ‘poor maintenance and housekeeping’.
Striking out Lincolnshire’s case, Mr Justice Stuart-Smith said it ‘should have been obvious’ to the council that it was ‘imperative’ to act promptly once the claim was issued.
Appearing for the council, James Leabeater, argued that ‘special consideration’ should be given to a local authority subject to well-publicised funding constraints.
But the judge said that any party in the council’s position was ‘obliged to act promptly and effectively’ and, ‘in the absence of sound reasons’, had to meet time limits set by the court, or be ‘at extreme peril’.