A decision to spend an additional £300,000 to bring a multi-storey car park in Lichfield up to scratch is being challenged.
Lichfield District Council’s Cabinet had previously approved the spending to extend the life of the facility, which had been due to be demolished as part of the doomed Friarsgate redevelopment scheme.
Because that project did not go ahead, the local authority has now said it plans to spend the money from the sinking fund, set up to replace the car park, to bring it up to scratch in the short term.
Cllr Sue Woodward, leader of the Labour opposition group on the council, has now questioned the decision to add the £300,000 to the £3million already earmarked for short-term improvements to the derelict site earmarked for Friarsgate.
She accused the Conservatives of failing to fully consider the proposal.
“This was yet another example of the Tory leadership nodding through an extra third of a million pounds for this site without any scrutiny from council members, let alone the tax-paying public,” she said.
“I was alarmed at the casual way that Cabinet members treated this proposal saying that it was at no cost to the council itself.
“Of course it comes with a cost as it reduces the funding available for any long-term future parking provision and it comes at a time, too, when the council is seeking planning permission to demolish the police station and provide extra car parking – even though current usage of the multi-storey car park is only 51%.
“Both the council’s capital and revenue budgets need to be revised if this decision goes ahead, just three weeks after they were agreed by the council. It all sounds like crisis management to me as someone clearly didn’t keep their eye on this particular ball.”
The decision has now been officially called in for scrutiny by Cllr Woodward.
A meeting will take place on 1st April to discuss the issues raised.
* Reference was made at Cabinet to it (a) being a consequence of the failure of the former Friarsgate project and (b) the length of time it had taken to bring the proposals forward. These need to be examined in a public forum and shared with Members, especially why this was not followed through at the time (ie early summer 2018).
* References were made at Cabinet to the proposals being “at no cost” and “doing this for nothing”. This is patently not the case and needs further examination.
* In the Cabinet report, the breakeven period for the proposed lighting works is stated to be “five years after a change over”, yet the discussion at Cabinet revealed that the longevity of the car park is unknown and may be as little as two years. This would far outweigh the income from parking and would not provide value for public money and there should be a full assessment of the financial risks is needed.
* The safety concerns raised in the report (ie “replacing the failing upper deck covering, repairs to various areas of damaged concrete, anti-corrosion treatment to structural steelwork, replacement of the damaged Birmingham Road height limiters, replacement of fire doors and frames” etc) could and perhaps should have been addressed before now. The call in will allow councillors to understand the reasons for the delay and the relative urgency of each of these measures.
* One Cabinet Member asserted that the current lighting does not meet “the required standards” but that LED lighting “will help” (only). The required standards, as referred to, need to be presented to members along with the reasons why they have not been met up to now and how far the current proposals will enable the Council to meet its obligations.
* The proposed cosmetic measures, including the lighting, should be judged against the safety concerns and a full business plan for all of the proposals presented for scrutiny.
* This decision was not presented for pre-decision scrutiny and should have been, in my view. Calling in the decision will give the opportunity for all members to discuss all of the implications of and background to the proposed expenditure.Cllr Woodward’s official reasoning for the call-in of the car park spending decision
Cllr Woodward added: “I’m not sure whether the 1st April date is appropriate or inappropriate, but I’m not going to be treated as anyone’s fool and I know a significant number of councillors and residents would agree.”