Saturday, 28 January 2012

Chester Cathedral Square: Another QuackCWaC Council cock up?

The Cathedral Quarter Phase 1 Chester Cathedral, Chester Renaissance and Cheshire West and Chester Council - are working together on a visionary initiative to find new ways of ......Wasting taxpayer's money? [an alternative, more accurate statement of what they are actually doing]

A WATCHDOG recently slammed a council-funded project at Chester Cathedral which cost taxpayers more than £750,000.

Cheshire West and Chester Council's own public accounts scrutiny panel found the consultants who earned hundreds of thousands of pounds designing the scheme appeared to be the ones driving the project.

Here is an extract from a recent article by Chester Walls
In late 2009, we heard the first of a £7.5 million plan "to make Chester Cathedral more visitor-friendly". Why so? Was there, then, something about the place that made it visitor-unfriendly? Aside from those intimidating admission charges of course. The stated aim was "to attract another 130,000 visitors a year".
Behind the scheme is a partnership of the Cathedral authorities and the quango Chester Renaissance; well-funded and powerful, the latest in a tiresome succession of fiddlers with Chester's precious heritage hailing from somewhere far away. Project management is co-ordinated with Building Design Partnership's (BDP) Liverpool office, designers of ultra-modern office blocks and shopping centres, including the vast and vile Liverpool One. So perfect for Chester then.
Another fervent advocate of the proposals, CWAC spokesman for regeneration Councillor Herbert Manley, who represents Hartford, some miles from Chester, is continuously being quoted as claiming the 'improvements' "could result in another 130,000 more annual visitors visiting the cathedral". Could? Martians could land in Town Hall Square but the likelihood seems just as remote. 
As no shortage of concerned correspondents to the local press, suspecting that they are being taken for fools, have been asking recently, in direct challenge to Cllr Manley, "where on earth did these figures come from? Please furnish us with the evidence." One suspects they'll be waiting for some time. 
By November 2011, things seemed to have gone somewhat pear-shaped for architects and project managers, the mighty BDP who have already earned themselves hundreds of thousands of pounds from you and I, the Chester taxpayer. 
15th November 2011: Despite being, predictably, recommended for acceptance by planning officers, the Cathedral proposals were unanimously, and to the joy of many, thrown out by the Cheshire West & Chester Planning Board tonight! Some quotes from the councillors who took part:
Ellesmere Port Councillor Keith Butcher: "Spending £2.5 million at this time is criminal".
The Chester Civic Trust: "The proposals lacked a feel for the city and sensitivity to local character".
Chester City Councillor Samantha Dixon: "This is a facelift but what the patient really needs is a heart transplant".
Councillor Norman Wright: "It would be an absolute shame to remove the green space from the war memorial... it would be asking for trouble in the future".
Councillor David Armstrong: "unacceptable to the people of Chester".
Chairman Councillor Ralph Oultram: "there should have been more dialogue along the way".
The same issues of the local press also reported that the Cathedral's Chief Executive (who would have thought such creatures existed within God's House?) Annette Moore, had, purely coincidentally, left her post "to pursue other interests"... 
In early January 2012, painful facts about the scandal started to be made public. As many as twenty three officers from the three 'partners' worked on the proposals, headed by Council Regeneration Director Charlie Seward, Chief Executive of Chester Renaissance Rita Waters and Chief Executive of Chester Cathedral, the now-departed Annette Moore. Project managers BDP earned themselves- wait for it- £520, 545 for producing the pretty drawings. Cheshire West and Chester Council's own Public Accounts Scrutiny Panel have expressed the view, unfortunately embarrassingly too late, that "BDP appeared to be the ones driving the project". Make of that what you will, dear reader. Total costs are conservatively estimated to have been at least an eye-watering £750,000! That's three quarters of a million pounds of our money utterly squandered.
Asked about repercussions for individuals or organisations given this shocking waste of yours and mine hard-earned, the council made nary a mention of sackings or legal demands for restitution but, rather, responded, "The council is currently working with the Cathedral and Chester Renaissance (the three 'partners' directly responsible for the scandalous loss, remember) to review the project and consider next steps and any decisions arising will be taken in the new year."
So some hope then. Less than helpful, however, were the remarks of Chester Renaissance Chairman Broomhead. On the matter of the failed Cathedral Square proposals, his expert opinion? "There were too many trouble makers and people interfering".
My comment:  Good job there were a few trouble makers and people interfering otherwise we would have had an even bigger cock up costing the taxpayer many millions. As you should know Mr Broomhead, scrutinising what taxpayer's money is spent on is called democracy not troublemaking or interfering. 

Whilst Midas had the golden touch, CWaC Council - or at least the Executive, have clearly developed the cock up touch. Good job the Council they control is a taxpayer funded institution otherwise they would have been out of business long ago.

"The council’s own public accounts scrutiny panel found the consultants who earned hundreds of thousands of pounds designing the scheme appeared to be the ones driving the project." 

Let's all hope that our Council Executive will now stop doing what consultants and other third parties want and start doing what's best for Cheshire West and Chester.

Read the full story from the source Chester Walls

Links to additional information

The Cathedral Quarter Phase 1 Chester Cathedral, Chester Renaissance and Cheshire West and Chester Council - are working together on a visionary initiative to find new ways of ....[Wasting taxpayer's money?]

29th September 2011 Chester Cathedral square MKII is unveiled The project is a partnership between Chester Cathedral, Cheshire West and Chester Council and Chester Renaissance.

Failed Chester Cathedral scheme cost £750K A WATCHDOG has slammed a council-funded project at Chester Cathedral which cost taxpayers more than £750,000.

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