Row over payments to consultants

EXCLUSIVEBy Ted JeoryAN MP has criticised a council after it spent more than £800,000 on consultants and designers as part of a major arts and regeneration project.

EXCLUSIVE

By Ted Jeory

AN MP has criticised a council after it spent more than £800,000 on consultants and designers as part of a major arts and regeneration project.

Bob Russell, the Colchester MP, also called for a referendum on the proposed developments, which he claimed were being “railroaded” through by management consultants against public opinion.


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Mr Russell said it was “outrageous” that more than £800,000 of taxpayers' money had already been spent on projects to build a visual arts complex in Colchester and to regenerate the town's St Botolph's quarter.

As well as the arts complex, the developments could also include a new department store, a new bus station in Osborne Street and a new magistrates' court.

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But Mr Russell said: “Not even a single brick has been laid, yet we are already being driven to the point of no return by private businesses with their own vested interests in seeing it go through.”

He called on Colchester Borough Council, which has approved the principle of the arts complex, to put the project to a public referendum “in the interests of democracy”.

To date, the council has authorised more than £800,000 in payments to consultants and designers to investigate the feasibility of the developments.

Both the East of England Development Agency and the Arts Council have each pledged £5m towards the estimated £15m cost of the visual arts complex, but the bulk of that is dependent upon it actually being built.

The project is still only at the public consultation stage, with discussions centring on how the buildings will look rather than whether they will actually be built.

Concrete proposals have yet to go through the formal planning process, but if the arts complex does not finally go ahead, much of the money already spent might not be recouped.

Mr Russell, who said he supported many aspects of the developments, warned: “Before long, these costs will spiral out of control.

“I just don't think the project is sustainable in the long term. It's the people of Colchester who will end up paying, not these here-today, gone-tomorrow consultants.”

Council leader, John Jowers, said: “This is a major capital programme that will attract hundreds of millions of pounds of inward investment into Colchester.

“If we want quality, we've got to pay for it and expert opinion doesn't come cheap. Much of it will be recouped in grants, unlike some of other schemes such as the community stadium at Cuckoo Farm.”

HOW THE MONEY WAS SPENT

Colchester Borough Council has spent more than £800,000 on management consultants and architects looking into the feasibility and design of the regeneration project.

About £400,000 of that has been ploughed into work on the visual arts complex, with the rest on other aspects of the St Botolph's quarter redevelopment masterplan.

During 2003/4, the council invited architects to submit entries for the design of the arts complex and that accounted for the bulk of the spend.

The amounts paid included £14,122 to international property consultants, DTZ Pieda Consulting, who gave an independent assessment reassuring bidders on the feasibility of the project.

Almost £28,000 was paid to Harley Street-based Mission 21 Ltd for advice on the public relations for the competition, while Robert and Donna McDonald were paid £600 to devise a fundraising strategy.

The Royal British Institute of Architects, who ran the competition, was paid £40,240 for its work.

Competition winners, Rafael Vinoly Architects, had earned £44,200 up until the end of the March for its feasibility work.

Since then, another £228,000 has been spent on arts complex design work with the bulk of that going to the winning architects.

Meanwhile, among the £278,000 paid to consultants for the rest of the Masterplan as at March 31, City-based Space Syntax Ltd was paid £70,890 for planning consultancy work.

At that date, £16,000 had also been paid to London consultants, Solace Enterprises Ltd, for project management services.

Since March, another £169,000 has been paid to various developers, architects and archaeological consultants.

ted.jeory@eadt.co.uk

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