< Car Park report

Comments from former Cllr Mike Linnett

in relation to the car park working party report phase 2
23rd October 2017

To the Chair Melbourn Parish Council

I wrote to you in May 2017 offering my view of the Car Park process which eventually lead to an increase in cost to the village. At the time, I received no response to the documentation I had given you personally or acknowledgement that the Car park working party had received my report.

Having now read the Car Park report, I find it disturbing that although the working group appears to have received the documentation I gave you, they felt it was acceptable to cherry pick much of what I said and as a final insult, they suggest the blame should be spread across all who had touched the car park from as early as 2012.

This report does nothing more than pay lip service to the Council, to show the wider public that they have ‘investigated’ the Car Park problems. More importantly the report shows a level of bias that does nothing for the integrity of the Car Park report and those who created it.

In a clear demonstration of the Council’s bias towards two serving Councillors, Cllr Hale and Cllr Regan, both were given the opportunity to read the document and make comments. You then allowed their comments to be published at the same time as the car park report was released. At no time was I or any other former members of the car park sub-committee offered the opportunity to give our comments on the report.

The Council set up the Working group to look at “the contractor’s final estimated cost of £393,364.09 and make recommendations to the Parish Council as to the way forward”. Yet in the first phase of the process, the working group contained two Councillors, Cllr Hale and Cllr Regan who were clearly party to the car parks problems. More importantly they were only involved with part of the project since they had resigned soon after they had locked the Council into a fixed contract. There is no way they could have given a clear understanding of the costs and overspend, since they had walked away from the project, before it had really begun.

As someone who became involved with the Car Park project following the resignation of Cllr Hales and Cllr Regan from the sub-committee, at no time was I asked by the Working group for my help, opinion or advise as to my role as Chairman of the sub-committee. As far as I am aware no other member of the sub-committee was asked. This phase of the report would have more credibility had Cllr Hales and Cllr Regan been called in to give advice only, as I and other members of the sub-committee should have been.

There was also clearly a conflict of interest in the creation of Phase 2 of the report that was “to be a full Post Project Review to learn lessons for future projects authorised by the Parish Council.” You appointed three Councillors to lead the investigation all three are friends, Council members and directors of the Hub management group alongside Cllr Hales.

The report talks about “very limited supporting papers to demonstrate the quality of information the Council had received to inform its decision making.”

At the start of the Car Park project this is clearly the case, meetings and discussions held by Cllr Hale and Cllr Regan were held in-secret, there was no notification of pending meetings and no minutes presented to the Council. “There were no clear and open lines of reporting to the Council regarding the progress of the project.”

On two separate occasions a request was made by Nigel McCraith of Sweett Group for all documentation including emails that had been produced by Cllr Hales and Cllr Regan from the start of the project up to August 2015. This would have helped Sweett identify any cost changes, no documents were made available.

On their resignation, Cllr Hales and Cllr Regan were requested during Council meetings to provide copies of all correspondence concerning the project. They both stated there were none.

I have made repeated requests under the freedom of Information Act for documentation of decisions made on behalf of the Council by Cllr Hale and Cllr Regan, none have been presented.

It is ironic when Cllr Regan said in his comments, “I cannot challenge events of which I am not informed or given any clue as to what is going on … I do not know what I do not know”.

All communication and correspondence relating to this project are public and belong to the Parish Council, as such the Councillors should have ensured that the Parish Council received all appropriate documentation.

The meetings held by Cllrs Hales and Cllrs Regan were clearly a flagrant breach of Standing Orders and warranted a thorough unbiased investigation into the abuse of power by two serving Councillors and at the very least reported to the monitoring officer to investigate. The two Councillors also ignored the Terms of Reference they signed up to on 9th February 2014. Yet this only warranted a cursory mention in the report by blaming everyone involved.

All preparations for this project were carried out by Cllrs Hales and Cllrs Regan alone. This included the architect, the drain inspection contractor, the soil and subsoil testing contractor, the project management company; and the choice of main contractors to include in the tender process. Other members of the sub-committee were not given the opportunity to have any input into the planning of the project.

“The Working Group concluded the underlying problem was one of mismanagement over a period of time and on many levels”, they also said it “was not conscious or wilful, but the outcome of poor communication”. There was indeed a level of poor communication as shown above, but there was a great deal of wilfulness throughout the early stages of this project when Cllr Hales and Cllr Regan took a conscious decision to hold meetings in secret and not inform those on the Car Park sub-committee on all works carried out on their behalf.

I say again, I have made repeated requests for documentation of decisions made on behalf of the Council by Cllr Hale and Cllr Regan none have been presented.

In Appendix 5 of the Working Party report it states only one tender was received, this is not the case, the Full Council were presented with three quotations. The Council agreed to accept the tender from Interserve. This quote was significantly less than any other quote provided, a possible indication on how the cost of the Car Park project could have risen.

In addition, the Council were only shown a plan of the proposed refurbished car park layout, there were no specifications of the contract.

There were several objections from Councillors to the proposed plan. Former Cllr Mulcock proposed that the workshop/garage be omitted and built later by a local contractor. He was also concerned about the extent of cost. A concern proven by the £66,500 paid for a single garage and storage room, that even today is still costing money to make it ready for use.

However, all objections were overruled by Cllr Hale and Cllr Regan. The Council was told any alteration at this stage would involve a repeat of the tender process and inevitably extra cost.

Again, there is some irony in the above remark when in their comments Cllr Hales and Cllr Regan stated the following:

“when the two key members of the team resigned there was an opportunity to review the tender and its cost and decide whether to accept it or go down another route of procurement or reducing scope”
“There was every opportunity to stop and take a new direction”.

The fees for the project management company, Sweett for £28,000, were not factored into the agreed budget or mentioned to Council. A sum of that magnitude also required a tender process and should have been subject to approval from the Full Council before appointment, non-was sought. When this point was queried at a Council meeting, Cllr Hales insisted that Sweett were on an approved local government supplier list and did not require approval. This was not correct.

Following the resignation of Cllr Hales and Regan, the sub-committee was reformed with the approval of the Full Parish. It was agreed that all queries were passed through the sub-committee and only the Chair of the sub-committee and the Clerk were to have any contact with the main contractor and project management company.

All meetings were documented and minutes kept. At all times, the Clerk (or assistant Clerk) attended the meetings.

The reformed Car Park sub-committee held three meetings in the last quarter of 2015, together with site meetings, which included representatives from the project management company, Sweett, and the main contractor, Interserve. The meetings were minuted by Sweett and copies sent to the Clerk. At each meeting, Sweett provided copies of a financial report of the build costs to date.

The reformed sub-committee were fully aware that all contractual arrangements put in place by Cllr Hale and Cllr Regan could not be altered without large additional costs.

As such, NO additional instructions were given to the contractor other than those specified in the contract.

The Interserve site manager/engineer, indicated that delays were caused by the architect employed by the Council, who revisited the site twice at short notice at additional cost to the Parish Council. There were minor adjustments made to the plans, involving kerb heights to obtain correct surface levels, and to the position of the soakaway due to ground condition. Any extra build cost was adequately covered by the contingency fund created at the beginning of the project.

The contract was prepared and approved by Cllr Hales and Cllr Regan, together with the architect, they alone appointed. Nothing was discussed at Council or at any sub-committee meetings.

Following their resignations, the sub-committee looked at the specifications drawn up by Cllr Hales and Cllr Regan and found it included several issues.

Work to the footpath at the rear of the war memorial was not included in the contract. This had been proposed and approved by Council. No explanation was offered by either Cllr Hales and Cllr Regan.

In the contract specification, the footpath from the High Street to Beeton Close was to be resurfaced and kerbed at a cost of £10,000. During searches by Sweett, it was found that the right of way for this path was owned by South Cambs District Council not the Parish Council and should not have been included in the contract. As a fixed contract, the £10,000 was unlikely to be recovered, despite the item being removed from the contract during refurbishment. This item was not discussed or approved by Council.

The removal of the concrete lamp post on the above pathway was also included in the contract, but again was found to be owned by South Cambs District Council

After his resignation from the sub-committee, at Planning and Full Council meetings Cllr Hales felt it important to question the work that he had set in motion. At one meeting, he asked why there were no drop-kerbs at the entrance to the car park. Since he created the specification, he would have known – the pavements belong to CCC Highways Department and as such are not the responsibility of the Parish Council. As Chairman of the Highways and rural footpaths committee, Cllr Hales would have been aware of the ownership of the footpaths in question – or at least he should have been.

Several times Cllr Hales brought up the question of the responsibility for the Beeton Close footpath, that he had included in the Car Park specifications. It was his contention that the pathway belonged to the Parish and on one occasion insisted the Clerk obtain land registry plans to show ownership. Had he put this request to the Clerk when drawing up the specifications of the Car Park he would have known the answer before adding £10,000 to the project. A copy of an email from South Cambs District Council to the Clerk dated October 2015 confirmed that SCDC retained ownership of this right of way.

During the planning committee meeting where this email was discussed, Cllr Hales acted in a way that was unbecoming of a serving public servant. This behaviour was witnessed by all those present at the meeting including several members of the public. In a letter of complaint, one member of the public referred to it as ‘the bullying incident’.

Although the Car Park was closed on 16th August 2015 work did not begin for approximately four weeks. No reason was given by Interserve, but Sweett later informed the Council that the appointed groundwork sub-contractor that had originally quoted for the job with Interserve had pulled out at the last minute. It was suggested that the sub-contractor, had not factored in that the specification required a ‘lorry park’ strong enough to take a 16-tonne fire engine, as such they had vastly under-quoted.

Included in the specification was the requirement that the surface of the car park should be strong enough to take the weight of a fire engine of approximately 16 tonnes. When this requirement was queried at a planning meeting in September 2015, Cllr Hales said, that as an ex-fireman, he had added this requirement to give the fire brigade access to the rear of houses in Beeton Close. It was pointed out that the Parish Council had no responsibility for providing a fire access and that, in the unlikely event of damage by a fire engine, it would be covered by insurance.

A lorry park surface would have required the removal of hundreds of tonnes of soil, and the import of hundreds of tonnes of hard-core. This requirement, was never discussed or approved or budgeted by the Council, and was not within the authority of a sub-committee to authorise an unknown extra cost. This item was not discussed or approved by Council.

Against advice from the sub-committee, the Clerk informed the contractor that the replacement of the bollards in the High Street could be omitted from the project. In addition, the re-surfacing and kerbing of the footpath from the High Street to Beeton Close was similarly omitted through the Clerk without discussion with the Full Council of sub-committee.

Since it was a fixed contract, there would be no savings to the Parish!

The Clerk was asked under who’s instructions were these decisions made, the Clerk was unable to offer an answer.

In January 2016, the sub-committee held a meeting with Nigel McGreith, Regional Director of Sweett. Nigel McGreith informed the committee that Interserve were likely to invoice for an extra charge of some £160k above the contract price. The meeting was not held in camera.

The Clerk, was present at this meeting, and was aware of the reasons discussed for the disputed differences. The Clerk, was also aware of the potential extra charges from Interserve which all related to build issues. These were all itemised in the financial reports provided by Sweett and discussed during the meeting.

The advised extra charges for build costs all relate to the original specification, over which the re-formed sub-committee had no control. At no time did the re-formed sub-committee, or the Clerk, authorise any expenditure outside the contract price approved by the Parish Council.

Documents that relate to the car park project, were obtained after the car park work had been completed. Amongst these were emails dated 19th January 2016.

One email was sent from a Council account, to Sweett and relates to an invoice for payments for contractual work carried out by Interserve. In the email, was the following statement ‘we are not happy to pay any further funds’. This email was unauthorised and was sent by one or more people without consulting the Chairman of the Parish Council or Chair of the sub-committee. Neither were aware of this email.

Had this email been acted upon by Sweett, Interserve would in all likelihood have taken immediate legal action to obtain payment, and the Council would have suffered irreparable damage.

Fortunately, Sweett did not act on this instruction, stating the current costs for the project are well within the contract sum

The Car Park working group, stated there “were ‘factions’ who tended not to trust one another, with ‘point-scoring’ behaviours”. This was not point scoring, this was a deliberate act of sabotage which had the potential of causing catastrophic problems for the Council and the village.

Not content with the first attempt to destabilise the project, in March 2016, an email was sent to all members of the car park project sub-committee with the exception of the Chair of Planning. This email discussed the same invoice mentioned above which related only to ‘contractual work’, but suggested there had been amendments to the specification and changes to the contract and that legal fees were applicable. There were no such changes or amendments and no legal fees were applicable.

The letter was then distributed to the Full Council, which spread alarm among Councillors.

I was away when this was brought to Council’s attention and at no time was the Council informed that Sweett had advised NOT to withhold payment. A proposal to refuse the payment to Interserve was approved during a meeting held on 28th March 2016.

On my return, Sweets recommendation was brought to the attention of the Council, and the decision to withhold the final instalment was reversed in good time to avoid any lasting damage.

Furthermore, and contrary to the conditions agreed and approved at Full Council that all matters regarding the car park build were to be dealt with by the project sub-committee, the Clerk sought advice regarding possible extra charges from two Councillors who had potential conflict of interest in the matter and Ian Dewar of CAPLC who had no first-hand knowledge of the project. Neither the Clerk nor Ian Dewar conferred with any member of the sub-committee, which included the Chairman of the Parish Council.

For the record the huge extra charge came from the lack of an adequate sub-surface survey (particularly in the workshop and soakaway areas). There was no sub-surface testing at all in the workshop area and the requirement was for a lorry park not a car park. These were catastrophic errors made at the specification stage, prepared and approved by Cllr Hales and Cllr Regan, so any intentional cover up of these reasons could only have benefitted them.

Whose fault – the Parish Council. They hold collective responsibility because they should have been more robust and questioned those that had created the many problems that beset this project. The Council’s responsibility was to ensure that the work carried on their behalf was followed within the guidelines of their Standing Orders and the Terms of Reference created for this project. Unfortunately, some Councillors, not for the first time, felt it was acceptable to go against the principles they signed up to.

There are documents that support much of what has been said, all of which should have been made available to the Car Park working group.

The Clerk and Councils constant use of CAPLC at every opportunity when asked awkward questions is intended to legitimise any statements the Council make. Furthermore, CAPLC are a ‘paid’ advisory service for the Council they cannot be seen as anything other than bias and will give the advice that the Council require.

To send out emails regarding the contract claiming that CAPLC advice was both legitimate and credible, begs belief.

I appreciate that the two Councillors mentioned in this document have now resigned from the Parish Council. However, they were given the opportunity to comment on the Car Park report in which they clearly lay blame on others for this disastrous project, I therefore expect the same courtesy and that you ensure it is posted on the Council website alongside their comments.

< Car Park report


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