Ruth Dombey’s LibDems in Sutton are refusing to discuss a council development project which has already gone £14million over budget before a single brick has been laid.
Sutton wants to bulldoze 25 council homes on Beech Tree Place in the town centre and replace them with three blocks of flats.
The 93-flat scheme was originally meant to cost £30million, but Liberal Democrat councillors on a committee last week voted through a new budget of £44.2million.
Clearly jealous of Croydon’s Brick by Brick money pit, Sutton appears to have come up with their own wizard wheeze for squandering huge amounts of public money, and risking delivering less than might be hoped for.
It might be more than mere coincidence that Beech Tree Place is being pushed through at a local authority where Richard Simpson is “strategic director resources” (“strategic”, no less!). Simpson was holding the purse strings in Croydon for six years, until 2019, and was the first company director appointed when council-owned housing developer Brick by Brick was formed.
Sutton has been kicking around the Beech Tree Place project for at least four years. With the existing houses having been built in the 1950s, the council “does not consider that the status quo of continued maintenance can deliver fit for purpose homes”.
Last week, Sutton’s “urgency committee” (yes, it is really called that) met and the LibDem majority approved the 50per cent budget hike for the development. Tory councillors on the committee voted against.
Labour and independent councillors have been denied any seats on the urgency committee, and so they have called for the matter to be debated at full council.
But council leader Dombey and the LibDems have refused.
The Beech Tree Place scheme was granted planning permission in March this year. It comprises one four-storey and two six-storey blocks.
Now, with the £44million budget approved, Sutton Council is having to go cap-in-hand to the Greater London Authority for additional grants worth £2.24million, in order that they can start work on the project by the end of this month. Sutton has already received £6.4million from the GLA towards the scheme.
Opposition councillors on the urgency committee voted against the project’s new budget because, as one said, “contractors might see us as an easy touch with the amount we’ve allowed them to increase their costs”.
At the committee meeting, Spencer Palmer, Sutton’s director of housing, admitted that planning approval was granted based on an estimated budget of £30million.
“Having completed the detailed design and tender process, the total cost of the scheme has increased significantly to £44.2million,” Palmer said.
A report submitted to the committee recommended using the GLA money to make the scheme 100per cent rented properties, to “eliminate the council’s exposure to sales risk on the shared ownership units”. The report claimed that this would allow the council to make a profit on the scheme.
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