Letter to the newspaper   Melbourn in Cambridgeshire

The letter below was published in the local newspaper The Royston Crow on 19 April 2018

In a letter published in the last issue of the Crow, a correspondent commends the Royston Crow’s defence and promotion of openness, transparency and accountability in all areas of public life. The Crow clearly demonstrated this during the troubles that Melbourn Parish Council have experienced over the past few years.

With the new elections coming up, let us hope altitudes have changed, for there were some on the council that felt openness, transparency and accountability was very low down on their list of priorities.

In the first instance, we had the Car Park fiasco. A project that began with a price-tag of £135,000, but ending with a ‘fixed contract’ of £257,000, as councillors included their wish-lists to the project. A wish list that included, a £66,500 ‘shed’, (councillor’s own description of the small building that sits in the corner of the new car park)

Yet this ‘fixed contract’ eventually landed the residents of Melbourn with a bill of £504,175.79. Fortunately, the external project manager secured a reduced cost and the residents of Melbourn ‘only’ had to pay £393,364.09 – just £136,364.09 more than the ‘fixed contract’, leaving the village with no money and having to borrow yet again, to keep their heads above water.

Why was such enormously escalating cost imposed on the village? Quoting the car park report, “There were no clear and open lines of reporting to the Full Council tracking the progress or costs of the project … few formal records of decisions made by individual councillors … there were ‘factions’ who tended not to trust one another, with ‘point-scoring’ behaviours.”

‘Decisions made by individual councillors’ can be seen in an important email that was sent out without consulting the parish council, an email that had it been acted upon, would have had catastrophic consequences for the village. Yet the report chose to ignore this fact.

Clearly there was no openness, transparency and accountability here. At no time did Melbourn parish council consult the residents of the village. There was no public discussion or design plans shown for the car park or any indication that the council were going to borrow a further £200,000 to pay for the project – despite having already agreed that part of the £650,000 previously borrowed (for the construction of the Hub) was to be used to pay for the car park project.

This was then followed by the grievance report, which is now clearly linked to the car park project. Openness, transparency and accountability was totally missing here too, and it took Court action to ensure the residents could understand just what all the troubles were about.

Then we had a shameful and biased car park report produced by the parish council. A report (we were told) that was going to put the council back on track of openness and transparency. Instead it was designed to protect sitting councillors, while blaming others including those that had left the council before the actual project began with its ‘fixed contract’ in June 2015!

Clearly the independent members of the working party of the car park report felt someone was to blame, when they said, “The Working Group believe that the people involved should have been held to account”.

Unfortunately, the council closed the door on any further discussion on the car park – a project that almost bankrupt the village.

We can only hope that in the future, if, and when the new parish council decide to spend residents’ money, they openly consult the residents of Melbourn first, whether it is for a shed or a stone monument!

After all that’s what openness and transparency is all about.





2 comments

  • I remember when the MPC wanted to build the original hub on the car park and wanted to do it without public consultation. Only a small set of residence exposed their dealings (wanting a £0.5m loan etc) and made them survey the public and make them aware of the costs before the old police station site became an alternative (costing less). It seems that practice finally caught up with the MPC!

    • As a matter of record, there was a public consultation for the proposed Community Centre on the old car park. Models were produced and plans drawn up.

      An exhibition was held and the plans, model and their ideas were explained in detail. The plans were also highlighted in the Melbourn magazine. Admittedly, the council required coaxing to get them to talk to the village – but they did. Pressure from some in the village (unfortunately accused of being NIMBYs) caused the council to abandon the car park idea.

      With the Hub on the police site, consultation, was far from the minds of some councillors. “We have permission, via the Village Plan” one councillor would happily tell residents. Not so, and as was pointed out, those who filled out the Village plan had not elected to spend a vast amount of their money, without consultation.

      A consultation was held and was a first for the parish. Everybody in the village received an opportunity to have their say, by way of a voting paper and explaning details what was proposed. You are right and it is unfortunate that only 11% of the village bothered to cast a vote. But the majority of those that voted, gave a clear mandate to go ahead with the project.

      As for costs. At the start of the Hub consultation, the £0.5 million (shown in the Melbourn magazine) also included money the council already had in reserve. A reasonable sum you could argue.

      But, that all changed when the loan became £650,000. To be fair, at the time of announcing the increase in the loan, the council said it was earmarked for the Hub and car park.

      However, not satisfied with spending the agreed amount – the one the residents of Melbourn had been consulted on, the cost grew, the Hub used all of that loan and much more. The estimated final cost of the Hub is said to be close to the million-pound mark. The car park was an additional sum.

      Between the Hub and car park the council stripped the coffers of the council and almost took it to bankruptcy.

      The residents currently have a mortgage or loan close to £900,000. The village has never been told this, simply because consultation is an alien concept to some.

      Secrecy became the norm for one or two on the council not just to the residents, but to their fellow councillors, doing things behind their backs was just normal to them.

      Hence the debacle and the eventual escalating costs over the car park. Some councillors not telling their colleagues (let alone the residents) what had been decided with the designs of the car park and what the costs were. Then some jumping ship mid-way through the process and blaming those that were left to pick up the pieces for all the cost overruns.

      All of the above is documented, just not talked about or published – sadly.

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