A DAMNING report of a city centre arts complex has revealed that Southampton City Council might still have to fork out an additional £4.4m - despite the fact that it's still not fully open.

The report - leaked to the Daily Echo by Southampton Independents - is the result of an investigation into why Studio 144 is over budget and five years behind schedule.

But despite trawling through "in excess of 1,400 folders and 15,000 files" auditors say there is a lack of documentation "regarding decision making" and that "it has been difficult to source and evidence elements of the project which may have assisted in obtaining clarity."

Authors of the report said "a shorter project lifetime, continuity in staff and a robust project management" might have meant Southampton City Council could "effectively manage the financial risks" and "still achieve the desired outcomes."

And they said an additional £4.4m could be added to the 'fit out' bill.

The report says that SCC did not hold a "chronology of events and key decisions, although the project has spanned 17 years."

Now opposition councillor Andrew Pope has criticised the report and council leaders for a "lack of accountability" in the project.

He said: "No councillors are named in the report. The report seems to blame officers. It doesn't go far enough."

Now in its 18th year Studio 144 involved three contractors for the development, design and fit out, "numerous delays" and only one feasibility study dating back to 2000.

And in 2000 it was estimated the build would cost £10-15m, but as previously reported by the Echo, this has risen to £30m.

Now authors of the report says "no other assessments appear to have been undertaken" since 2000 - despite opportunities in 2007 for "revised costings funding and delivery."

But leader of Southampton City Council Councillor Simon Letts said he now insists senior officers meet monthly to ensure records are kept properly .

He said: "The main thing to come out of that report is processes. In fact we put in place a board of capital expenditure called the capital board. We have got to learn from that so we keep a grip on capital expenditure."

He added that the final piece of the project is to negotiate on the remaining £4.4m bill but said he "didn't want to know" exactly what the final payout will be for - or why the John Hansard Gallery is still not open.

He said: "I don't need to know because the numbers are the numbers. If it's about a sound system or lighting it makes no difference."

He added that the opening of the John Hansard is "the decision of the university. It's their building.

"We are in an arbitration process over the final bills for the arts complex. The sum in the report concerns the maximum exposure for the council experience suggests that this sum will come down considerably as part of this process.

"The alternative of course which I assume is the one favoured by Cllr Pope is that we would not complete the project but leave the building empty and unused which of course is a ridiculous proposal.

"All decisions on funding the complex are made by full council and have in the past been supported by 47 of the 48 Southampton Councillors."

City Tory opposition leader Cllr Jeremy Moulton said the project has spanned six administrations and so "all parties" had to share responsibility. He added: "The council could have sold off the land when Tyrell's closed and it could have been student flats by now. Thankfully they had the foresight not to."