Council defends £2m consultants bill

A BOROUGH council came under fire last night after it emerged it had spent more than £2million on consultants for a controversial new retail development.

A BOROUGH council came under fire last night after it emerged it had spent more than £2million on consultants for a controversial new retail development.

Engineers, theatre planners and acoustic technicians are all among the specialists hired by St Edmundsbury Borough Council and developers Centros Miller throughout the planning stages of the £85m Cattle Market project.

Project chiefs insisted yesterday the amount spent on consultants was normal - and essential - for a development of its size.

But residents opposed to the scheme, earmarked for the heart of Bury St Edmunds, say the outlay has done nothing to quell their fears over the venture.

David Nettleton, leader of the council's Real Independent group, said: "All these fees are going out and it is a massive amount of money, but we are ending up with a scheme which is not universally liked within the borough.

"I would not mind it so much if we were going to get a super duper job, but we are paying a lot of money to get something people are not that happy with."

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Work on the scheme should begin next year, with the project scheduled for completion in 2008. Included in the redevelopment will be 35 retail units, a Debenhams department store, 56 flats and a public building.

Anthony Platt, leader of the Group of 32, residents who have been opposed to the scheme for more than two years, said: "This is a lot of money. What interests me is not what it costs Centros Miller, but what it costs the council. And this is not to mention the cost of the development itself and the public building.

"We very much fear that if the council does go ahead with this, it will rue the day - but the damage then will already be done."

Mr Platt said his group feared smaller independent shops in the town centre would suffer as a result of the development, while existing historic venues within Bury will also be blighted.

A spokesman for the council said current estimates for the amount spent on professional fees by 2008 stood at £2.7million - £550,000 of which will be paid by Centros Miller.

"For a major construction project of this size that is a normal level," she said. "Along with the bricks and mortar or wood and glass, any capital project has as standard practice a professional fee element of around 15-20%.

"The funding is for the wide-ranging experience and expertise which we do not have among council staff - such as property law specialists, architects, transport and car parking experts, quantity surveyors, acousticians, consultants with knowledge of likely business for the venue and various other aspects which are all necessary for such a huge project. It makes financial sense to employ experts as and when we need them.

"Some of the costs are being funded by the planning delivery grant - money which is given to us by the Government - and £550,000 will be recouped from our developer partner, Centros Miller."

The spokesman added that Centros Miller had carried out studies regarding the potential impact of the development on the existing town centre as part of its planning application for the project.

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