A WARTS-and-all report into the failings of the £6.5m Red Lion Quarter project reveals poor management, lack of communication and a shocking supply of financial advice.
And South Holland district councillors were told on Wednesday night that criticism levelled at the development – largely via the public through our two newspapers and from Spalding and District Area Chamber of Commerce – was indeed warranted.
A report said: “Much of this (adverse publicity and criticism) is considered to be justified and the council’s reputation has consequently been damaged.”
The task group of six district councillors, which produced the independent report, presented its findings close to the first anniversary of the opening of what was supposed to be a flagship centre for Spalding and the district, showcasing the best of its heritage and produce.
The Food Court quickly found itself poorly supported and closed within six months. And the Community Interest Company set up to manage the building soon turned to the council for financial help.
It has since been discovered that the company had too little money to cover things going wrong – and “no contingency plans or plan B”.
The chamber queried the design of the building and in particular the retail units being largely out of sight. The task group replied that it would have been “infinitely better” if a planning application had been developed at a much earlier stage.
It was not even certain that local business chiefs were canvassed prior to the design and build.
The group had to cast its interviewees net further when some of the early evidence was conflicting.
The report notes that former district council head of economic and community development Sue Bolter – who chaired meetings of the project board – did not respond to a questionnaire.
The board had 14 members but the task group found “it was far from clear as to what each individual’s role was”.
And in a shocking revelation a representative of the finance team attended just one of eight meetings between May 2009 and September 2010.
The report concludes: “The lack of professional finance advice to the board is of concern... in view of the value of the project and issues involved... it appears the project board as a whole was not clear on the need to take collective responsibility for the project.”
The future of the building is currently being decided.
The task group, which also made recommendations to prevent similar horror stories in the future, comprised Bryan Alcock, Anthony Casson, Angela Newton, Roger Perkins, Michael Seymour and David Wilkinson.
The group did underline that the project had created positives such as the revamp of a run-down part of town, increased further education and training facilities, and inward investment of millions of pounds into South Holland.