Posted: Mon 22nd Apr 2024

Residents Fear £9m Gloucestershire Regeneration Project Could End in £10m Bat Box

news.wales / newyddion.cymru

There are fears Gloucestershire residents could be left with nothing more than a “£10m bat box” as a major regeneration project is facing ballooning costs.
Plans for a new £9m leisure centre at Five Acres near Coleford were given the go-ahead in February this year.
And work to turn the Speedwell building into community facilities and the construction of a multi-purpose sports and performance hall was expected to begin soon after.
But an announcement by the council’s chief executive this week has sparked alarm among councillors who fear they are witnessing another debacle akin to that of the £100m Cinderford Northern Quarter redevelopment.
Nigel Brinn, the council’s chief executive, said the authority had hoped to be on site at this stage but have not due to inflation and the cost of materials costs rising substantially.
He says despite this the council is committed to “delivering a project that provides real and long-lasting benefit to the people of the Forest of Dean within the budget available to us”.
Former council leader Tim Gwilliam (Progressive Independents, Berry Hill) says the costs have gone “significantly above” the funding the authority has available.
“We’ve gone from having a fully funded project with a date for a spade to be put in the ground in September,” he said.
“Since they’ve taken over, we’ve gone from that to not having enough money to deliver even the basics and having to go back to the Government and cut back on things.”
Councillor Jamie Elsmore (Progressive Independents, Berry Hill) says his biggest fear is that residents will lose out with the council sacrificing “a lot of the facilities” they were promised to be able to redevelop the site.
“If we’re not careful we are going to end up with a £10 million bat box,” he said.
“That’s where the emphasis is. The public should be put first.
“I understand they are working towards a Green agenda but the public who have been fighting for this for the last 12 weeks should be rewarded for their perseverance with facilities like the other communities have.”
Conservative councillor Alan Preest (Lydney East) is also concerned about the financial problems the council is facing with the Five Acres regeneration project.
“We’ve got to do what is right for the general population of the Forest of Dean and get a facility in place that serves them properly,” he said.
“They keep saying cost of materials is going up but it actually many costs have levelled out since Covid and is on the way down in a number of respects.
“I’m very worried it could be another Cinderford Northern Quarter and we all know what happened there.
“Perhaps the district council should be working with other authorities such as Gloucestershire County Council to get the job done properly by calling in expertise to get it done. I have many concerns about it.”
In February, the Forest of Dean District Council granted itself permission for the works which include a separate cycle store and sports pavilion at the site off the Monmouth Road in Berry Hill.
The plan was for the Speedwell building, which is the three-storey brick building remaining on the former Royal Forest of Dean College site, to be extended and the sports hall will join the extended building by means of a glazed atrium.
This would result in buildings which can be used as a community hub and leisure centre, according to the council.
Chief Executive Nigel Brinn said: “We had originally hoped to be on site at this stage but as with the construction of any large facility such as this, the Council must ensure that the development is affordable and remains financially sustainable going forward.
“Unfortunately, costs have risen substantially since the council was successful in its Levelling Up Fund bid, due to rising global costs of materials and the impact of high inflation.
“We would like to reassure the community that Forest of Dean District Council is committed to working with partners and key stakeholders to deliver a project that provides real and long-lasting benefit to the people of the Forest of Dean, within the budget available to us.”
Since August 2023, the council says it has been working with its appointed Design and Build contractor BAM to refine proposals for the construction of the community and leisure facility at Five Acres.
The community and other key stakeholders have previously been consulted on designs and the future uses of the site to ensure the facility meets the needs of residents, according to the council.
In October 2023, the design team submitted a planning application to redevelop the site and planning consent was granted in February 2024.
In accordance with the agreed programme, at which time design and build contractor BAM sought updated prices from the market for each element of the construction project.
The project team is said to be currently reviewing each element of the work and looking at options for how we could reduce costs to remain within budget.
Council leaders say an update on construction commencement and anticipated completion will be provided once designs have been reviewed and agreed, which can be fully funded with the budget available.
The site’s development is currently being phased with the renovation and conversion of the Speedwell building and the construction of the Sports Hall in phase one.
Phase two is the construction of the 3G pitch and subject to planning approval is likely to start part of the way through phase one construction.
The council has not officially confirmed how much the final bill for the project would be but according to current estimates, if the project goes ahead unchanged, there would be a funding gap of around £2 million.
The council is understood to have set aside £14.5m for the project but is believed to be being quoted around £16m to complete the project.
The Green Party leadership at the district council has been approached for comment. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​



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