Published: 09:49, 19 May 2003
A LONG-RUNNING dispute over repairs to an ancient abbey could force a high-flying company out of business, the firm claims.
But builder Crest Nicholson has promised that work "is about to commence".
Northfleet-based Award-winning Pandora International, ranked 22nd in a survey of Kent's top performers, is locked in a legal battle with developers Crest Nicholson over repairs to Ingress Abbey, Greenhithe.
Pandora hoped to move into the abbey two years ago after buying it for £2.5m as the new company headquarters.
But frustrated bosses say there have been delays and have complained about the standard of repairs. They also claim extra costs have been incurred.
The acclaimed inventor and manufacturer of colour separation equipment for the film industry -- it has won a prestigious Emmy Award for its achievements -- bought the crumbling pile in 2000.
Pandora had been assured that it would be fully restored before the firm moved into what it believed would be an impressive new headquarters on the Ingress Park housing development on the banks of the River Thames.
Crest uses pictures of the abbey to promote sales of its homes at Ingress Park. They range from £195,000 one-bedroom apartments to £425,000 four-bedroom executive houses. A sign outside the site proclaims "Gold Award for Best Development”.
Pandora bosses claim Crest promised to repair the abbey to agreed specifications and make it suitable for Pandora's new headquarters.
Crest has carried out renovation and repairs but Pandora claims the work was unsatisfactory, that the roof leaks, that wall, ceilings and floors are damp, and that chunks of masonry have been falling from the back of the building.
They recently showed their anger by hoisting a banner to illustrate their grievances.
In prolonged correspondence with Crest lawyers, Pandora's legal team claims that Crest has failed to carry out the work to promised specifications.
With its existing rented premises The Old Rectory, Springhead Road, Northfleet, sold, Pandora has to move out soon which increases pressure to make Ingress Abbey habitable.
Aine Marsland, the managing director, said: "We need to get in soon. We've got a leaking roof that Crest have known about from day one. Bits of masonry are dropping off.
"It's been a saga of David and Goliath and we've had a year and a half of uncertainty.
"They've done a lot of work and it's cost them more than they anticipated but that isn't Pandora's problem.
Ms Marsland says she wishes she had never bought the abbey, claiming the restoration problems have cost money that should have been invested in further growth.
"I could have employed half a dozen local people, we should have moved, we should have expanded but we've had to contract.
A Crest spokeswoman said: "Crest is very aware about it and work is about to commence. Rest assured, it is being sorted out and they are getting on to it now.
"At the end of the day, it's being seen to and whatever the complications between Pandora and Crest, they are going to get it done. It's being sorted, it's being done so they can take their banner down."