Council 'casual' with millions in public cash for Italian Gardens redevelopment

PUBLISHED: 16:30 16 May 2018

Weston's new look Italian Gardens, Town Square and Winter Gardens.

Weston's new look Italian Gardens, Town Square and Winter Gardens.

Archant

'Lessons will be learned' from the over-budget redevelopment of Weston's Italian Gardens after North Somerset Council admitted it could have done more to save taxpayers' money.

The revamp of the square will cost £501,000 more than expected but documents seen by the Mercury this week reveal the authority admits shortcomings in its management of the project.

The refurbishment was commissioned last year after the council secured £2.48milllion from the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).

But, as the Mercury revealed in April, it needed more cash and in its request for more LEP funding the council said ‘more detailed supervision may have provided opportunities to minimise increases and would have provided earlier warning of cost escalations’.

Labour councillor Denise Hunt is ‘appalled the council is so casual’ with public money.

But North Somerset believes the project has been ‘phenomenally successful’.

Its spokesman said: “The funding was available at very short notice. Had the cash not been spent it would have returned to the Government. The project was therefore developed quickly through its design phase and continuously refined through the construction phase, resulting in month-on-month changes to the cost budget.

“The risks associated with the very short development phase were known from the outset of the project with the planned mitigation the council would seek additional funding for the project, if required, as we progressed from our capital allocations from the LEP.

“The comment on supervision refers to a cost increase incurred by the contractor due to the additional complexity of the drainage works not envisaged during the project scoping.

“We review all our capital projects after completion to learn lessons for future projects.”

Cllr Hunt said: “The council is missing the point. This is not about how well money has been used or the opportunistic nature of gaining the funding.

“This is about transparency and the lack of project and financial control exercised in this project. This is still public money and just because the LEP was paying for it, doesn’t make it OK to blow the budget and seek a secret retrospective increase in funding of £500,000 to pay for it.

“I’m appalled the council is so casual with other people’s money and its admission in its request to the LEP is quite shocking.

“We have to ask why costs weren’t better controlled and how future projects will be better managed? This is basic stuff and it doesn’t build confidence.”

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