More to be spent on Calverley Square following audit calls

More to be spent on Calverley Square following audit calls
The failed theatre and civic centre (artist's impression)

Last week, Councillors rejected proposals by the Council to commission a review into the £108million Calverley Square scheme by Mid Kent Audit Services – the shared independent body that reviews projects for Tunbridge Wells, Maidstone and Swale Councils.

A group of cross-party Councillors have instead insisted that an external audit is commissioned to scrutinise the costs of the failed project and claim ‘millions’ more had been spent than the Council has claimed

Calverley Square, which was officially closed at last week’s Finance and Governance Cabinet Advisory Board, has already cost taxpayers £10,627,960.

In addition, nearly £3million has been earmarked in April’s budget for repairs to a number of buildings that were expected to be sold after the new civic centre development and theatre were built and are now in urgent need of repair.

Now more money could be spent on an external audit to scrutinise the project, that could take six months to complete, but which opposition Councillors say is necessary to find out what the ‘real cost’ of the failed project was.

Leader of the Liberal Democrat opposition, Cllr Ben Chapelard, says he disputes the Council’s £10.6million figure and claims ‘millions’ more was spent than has been reported.

He told the Times: “The Conservative-run Council will only admit to costs of £10.8million. We believe there are millions missing from this figure.

“Therefore, to know the true cost, the audit must be conducted by a competent body wholly independent of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council. Residents – who are paying for this failed project – deserve to know the real cost to the taxpayer.” 

But Cabinet member Cllr David Scott dismissed such claims as ‘nonsense’ and blamed the Liberal Democrats for the wasted money after they changed their mind about the project once it was underway.

He said: “The way to waste lots of public money is to always change your mind at the last moment. That’s what the Liberals have done to this town. Whatever we do next, even if it is simply to maintain the existing buildings, could potentially cost more.”

He continued: “A financial audit will tell us nothing. We know exactly what was spent and where every penny went. Calverley Square has been subject to a raft of scrutiny from a Grant Thornton audit to the CPO inquiry.

“We know what went wrong. What we need to review is how the Council makes decisions in the future and avoids having the rug pulled out from a project at the eleventh hour.

“All Council decisions, no matter who makes them, take time to come to fruition. The problem is a decision made by a Council at one point in time is then overturned a number of years later, and you end up wasting money.”

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