BUILDING work on a controversial taxpayer-funded hotel at the home of Hampshire cricket is finally back underway, the Daily Echo can reveal.

A new contractor has at last been confirmed to complete the giant unfinished shell of the planned Hilton hotel at The Ageas Bowl.

RB Sport & Leisure Holdings PLC, the parent company of Hampshire Cricket Ltd, has announced that Hampshire-based Powells Group Ltd has been appointed to finish the job.

As previously reported, work on the luxury 175-bedroom hotel came to a grinding halt in September when the previous contractor, Denizen, plunged in to administration owing hundreds of thousands of pounds to small Hampshire businesses.

Since then work has been going on behind the scenes to find a new contractor with a “complex” series of agreements having to be drawn up.

Meanwhile Co-operative Bank has stepped away from the project and a new funding body, Omni Capital, has stepped in to provide the upfront building cash.

Civic chiefs are underpinning the entire project with the promise of buying the hotel for millions of pounds of tax payers money.

They insist that there will be no additional cost to the authority as a result of the delays and new deal.

The hotel is now scheduled to open in spring 2015 although the Media Centre it houses will be ready in time to host written and broadcast media at the England v India Investec Test Match starting on July 27.

Rod Bransgrove, Chairman of Hampshire Cricket said: “Through no fault of the Club or Eastleigh Borough Council, the hotel development encountered a major setback towards the end of last year.

“We have worked tirelessly alongside all the key stakeholders in this project to recommence work in the shortest time possible given the complex nature of this project.

“Our aim of creating a model Test Match ground and world-class destination resort is stronger than ever although the realisation of this aim will be just a little later than we had originally planned.”

Gordon Wells, Chairman of Powells Group said: “As a Hampshire based company, we are delighted to have been awarded the contract to complete the Hilton Hotel at the Ageas Bowl, Southampton and our aim is to continue to use local tradesmen and businesses wherever possible.

“Our forte is the production of high quality commercial interiors, including hotels, retail premises, showrooms, restaurants and offices.

“Our additional experience of heavy construction work puts us in a perfect position to complete this project on time, on budget and to the highest possible standards as evidenced by our enviable client list including the likes of Louis Vuitton, Prada, Burberry and many other world renowned high profile companies.”

The Liberal Democrat-controlled council agreed to pay more than £27m for the completed hotel - unchanged even if building charges spiral.

It has already spent around £3.4m upfront in consultancy and services fees and has bought the ground the hotel sits on for £1.1m.

The council also bought the lease of the 167-acre Ageas Bowl site for £6.5m in 2011, as revealed by the Daily Echo.

The facility in West End was set to create 500 jobs, pumping up to £55m a year into the local economy on its expected opening this spring.

The announcement comes after the Daily Echo revealed how leaked documents showed that Denizen went bust after bosses revealed they would lose more than £2m by completing the Hampshire project.

The Co-operative Bank withdrew further funding when bank bosses became aware of Denizen's financial problems, according to the report.

Keith House, Leader of Eastleigh Borough Council said: “This is a very significant scheme for the borough and it is important that we have taken the time to ensure that outstanding issues have been resolved.

“It's fantastic news that work has started on finishing the Hilton Hotel so that people and businesses in the borough can begin to enjoy the benefits of this investment”.

“Funding for the completion of the Hotel is being provided by Omni Capital - one of the UK's leading specialist providers of short and medium-term residential property funding. This means that The Co-operative Bank, who provided the early seed funding for the development, will now step back from the project.”

Grahame McGirr, Managing Director of Co-operative Asset Management and Chief Risk Officer of the Co-operative Bank said: “The Co-operative Bank has a long history of investing in local communities and working with partners to ensure sustainable funding over the longer term.

“We believe this project will make a significant contribution to the local community and economy. The Bank's seed funding for this project is now at an end, though we continue to support Hampshire Cricket In the Community, the Club's official charity, as it delivers an increasing amount of local and regional community activity.”

Hotel management company, Interstate Hotels & Resorts, will operate the hotel when it opens.

The global company currently has 50 hotels in the UK under franchise agreements with companies including Hilton Worldwide, InterContinental Hotels Group, Accor, Wyndham and Best Western.

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