Letters, January 6, 2011, part two

PUBLISHED: 11:10 06 January 2011

Westminster Lodge - the saga continues

SIR – May I congratulate you on publishing letters relating to the never-ending New Bodge debacle by Mr Max Schroeder on December 23 and Cllr Mike Wakely on December 30.

As 2011 beings, they and many people in the city of St Albans are sending out a very clear message to the ruling faction of St Albans District Council (SADC) .

The message is that your in-house project team is incompetent, disingenuous and, like the New Bodge design, unfit for purpose.

You are squandering a once in 40 years opportunity by wantonly misspending about £26 million of our money getting the design and implementation totally wrong. As it stands this project is technically, financially and professionally flawed. You can read in detail why this is by clicking on www.pooltoosmall.com

PoolTooSmall is a non-political campaign group specifically formed to fight the original New Bodge planning application of early 2010 but nowadays to fight, indefinitely if necessary, for adequate leisure water space in the whole city and district of St Albans.

The website brings you the opinions of real residents, swimmers, divers, council tax payers, councillors, families and users of our scarce leisure waterspace resources – not the spin and casuistry of the SADC propaganda machine.

The name “Westminster Bodge” was coined in November 2010 after the SADC in-house project team failed to spot a billion pound plus deficit in the SADC’s chosen McNamara empire’s finances.

How did they fail to find it after months of knowing the prime bidder’s name when PoolTooSmall found it in 30 seconds on line and blew the whistle as reported on www.pooltoosmall.com in November 2010?

This was an unforgiveable blunder by an incompetent SADC in-house project team – probably the worst I have witnessed in 40 years as a professional engineering project manager.

But why has Mr Schroeder, quite rightly, used the phrase “Burton’s Blunder” for the present project design?

He has a very long memory having lived in St Albans for many decades.

We soon confirmed his repeated opinion of earlier in 2010, that the true mastermind behind the present New Bodge flawed design is former leisure portfolio holder Cllr Sheila Burton.

It was her self-congratulatory, expensive, glossy council leaflet in November 2009 crowing “Council Gets Go Ahead” that prompted the birth of PoolTooSmall in December 2009 and subsequently our website www.pooltoosmall.com in February 2010.

The list of Burton’s Blunders is lengthy and over the next few months we will be airing them with the public through the press.

Council tax-paying people and their families have every right to see how a unique, once in 40 years, opportunity has been squandered by incompetence and political dogma, together with about £26 million of our money.

So to get 2011 underway here is Burton’s Blunder No 1. The flawed PMP report of 2006 commissioned by Cllr Burton’s inadequate committee.

I criticised the report heavily in the Herts Advertiser in February 2010 and you can read my report in full on www.pooltoosmall.com front page, left hand side, special section.

How is it, Cllr Burton, that you added just nine extra places to the present main pool, constructed in 1971, and expect it to last for 40-50 years from 2012 – especially when the present Lodge main pool was regularly going into full public-demand overload in 2009?

Nobody trusts this SADC in-house project team – where incompetence comes as standard.

More Burton’s Blunders instalments will be published regularly in the coming months on our website and in the press.

Questions about the finances, the SPA, moving pool floors and the CONfidence Pool will be high on our agenda! After all millions of pounds of our money are being frippaged away...

And finally a New Year 2011 message to any future New Bodge contractors.

You have been offered a poisoned chalice by an incompetent and discredited project team.

This team is, and always has been, bereft of anyone of chief engineer calibre in-house to really look after the design and the people’s interests and you should be aware that even if you complete the contract you will have delivered to an unjustified and totally inadequate specification that the people don’t want.

My professional recommendation to you is to persuade SADC to go back to the drawing board now to get the specification right!

PoolTooSmall is not rolling over – we are the voice of the real frontline users, residents, swimmers, divers, council tax payers and their families, not the present ruling political faction of SADC.

And the clock is ticking towards the day when a very long New Bodge main pool overload queue will form out onto Mud Lane.

Could it be that on hand, to issue coloured “overload wristbands” will be Councillors Donald, Burton, Rowlands and Brazier? And will they offer the unfortunates in the queue a choice of wristband – one type marked “Westminster Bodge” or the far more popular one marked “Burton’s Blunder”. Hang your heads in shame – the game is up!

DAVID GILROY

Eur Ing, MSc, C.Eng, MIET.

pooltoosmall.com

SIR – I persistently ask myself, why do I bother to pursue this Lib Dem cabinet for the decisions they have taken surrounding the proposed circa £27m leisure centre at Westminster Lodge?

Surely it’s a done deal, time to shut up and ‘move on’! However my conscience will not allow it; I believe in fair and transparent democracy. Events and information that has gradually come to light prove anything to do with this scheme has been far from fair and transparent.

I want to deal further with three issues here:

1) Funding and borrowing – firstly as of the end of March 2010 the council as a whole was already in deficit by £3,062,000.

Also let us not forget that the council have already borrowed and spent £1,500,000 on the Westminster Lodge project; this was borrowed for a term of 25 years from The Public Works Loan Board.

In the Herts Advertiser report of December 23 a spokesman for the council claimed that they will only need to borrow £16,700,000 for Westminster Lodge.

Concealed in the depths of council budget papers we can find that they need to borrow (internally) from the housing capital receipts fund £4,800,000 with the promise to pay this back after the sale of Ridgeview.

This fund constitutes money received from the sale of council houses and morally, I believe, should be solely used to provide local housing requirements.

I wonder in view of the year-on-year cuts in government grants will this sum really be repaid?

To redevelop Ridgeview the council will need to borrow from PWLB a further £2,500,000, they aim to repay this within three years at an interest cost of a further £60,000.

On top of this a further £13,701,000 in 2011/12 and unbelievably a further £2,694,000 in 2012/13 is to be borrowed from the PWLB for Westminster Lodge.

Therefore, by my calculations, the council spokesperson has forgotten about £8,495,000!

We all know building works notoriously run over budget so will the depth of borrowing end here? Also in a precarious property market will the sale of Ridgeview raise the expected revenue?

As an aside, wasn’t the reason given to close the Bricket Wood centre and withdraw from the London Colney leisure facilities to help pay for Westminster Lodge? Is that not a form of subsidy, a notion pooh-poohed recently by the council spokesperson?

2) The sale of Ridgeview, the former homeless shelter, to help fund a leisure centre has always been controversial. Finally though the chief housing officer, familiar with a housing waiting list of 2,218 people; has submitted a planning application (5/2010/2698) on behalf of the council for the demolition of Ridgeview, and replacement with 107 flats, yes more flats, with only 35 per cent allocated as affordable, the rest at market prices.

The current Local Development Framework core strategy consultation emphasises the need for more affordable homes and an alarming shortage of housing and care facilities for the growing elderly population.

The document recommends at least 40 per cent of this scale of development should be affordable.

Yet the council, who should be setting an example if they must turn into a commercial developer, is seemingly spectacularly failing to practice what they preach!

3) Finally the long awaited archaeology report on the important trench 11 has been released.

Interestingly the report was firstly dated September 20 but due to the officers’ request for “factual and/or textual inaccuracies to be rectified”, the revised report is dated November 20.

A probable medieval kiln has been found (12th/13th-Century) along with other interesting artefacts and other material. Further ditches were uncovered which could all be associated with the highly probable Roman watermill already uncovered.

The report suggests taking further samples and/or further analysis. However in answer to a councillor questioning when these will take place the project manager unsurprising couldn’t answer.

It is my belief that all the physical landscape or items left in situ will be destroyed when the foundations for the new pool are dug, which will be directly above.

Are we so rich in archaeology we can just destroy this without a second thought?

Is it any wonder that it has become known that the head of the museums is intending to take early retirement?

What does this say about the cabinet’s stance on heritage?

A job advert in the Herts Advertiser just before Christmas caught my eye; St Albans Lib Dems were advertising for a campaigner, good at press relations until June on a pro rata salary of £18,000 pa.

Local voluntary support for such a role must have unsurprisingly dried up!

One thing is for sure the successful applicant would not be able to afford accommodation in the district on that salary. The cabinet had a golden opportunity to redevelop Ridgeview in such a way to partially mitigate a PR disaster but they flunked it, no wonder they need paid help.

VANESSA GREGORY

Tennyson Road, St Albans

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