Expensive Shrubberies for Chard

In many ways Chard has been lucky over the past few years. A new leisure centre and swimming pool. New housing and employment buildings in the Boden Mill area of town. A grant of £1m from Historic England, matched by another £1m from South Somerset District Council. this will be spent on tidying up the high street, renovating frontages and generally improving the town centre.]

Earlier this month SSDC told us the metal structure of the swimming pool building was complete. The roofing over the pool is also completed with internal walls for the changing room and office area. The building of the pool itself has also commenced with testing of the pool likely to take place before Christmas.

Then of course, on the down side, the hammer blow of up to 850 job losses and the likely closure of Oscar Mayer.

So against this background an announcement on Wednesday from SSDC’s Area West, was hard to evaluate. Essentially it is a plan to tidy up the eastern gateway to the High Street where Silver Street meets Fore Street. It is hard to get precise details of what is involved. This is SSDC after all. But listening to the meeting it appears to involve some repaving, landscaping and er, that’s it.

This would not ordinarily be a big deal.

However the fact it is now set to cost over £97,000 is certainly a big deal. This total projected cost includes design fees, surveys, works and materials estimates and contingency. Some of those words will set off alarm bells in the mind of anyone who has done project management.

The original project cost was estimated at just £38,000. To be split £15,000 from Chard town Council and £23,000 from SSDC. Why have the costs gone up? Well the paper supporting this plan that was presented to Area West explains. “The previous project cost presented to the Committee was a generic estimate and didn’t include this detail.”

If that is shorthand for hopelessly inaccurate, then we can all agree. But the best bit is that having approved a new budget of £97,193, more than double the original, there is another request. “It is therefore recommended that Area West Committee delegates the final design development for the scheme to the project team leading Chard’s public realm projects, with final sign off delegated to the Chard Regeneration Board.”

In other words delegate control of the project. And to the very people who made such a hash of estimating the initial cost. This does not sound like a fine plan.

Even Val Keitch, leader of SSDC seemed to be wary of agreeing this. £97,000 on some landscaping when 850 residents may lose their jobs makes little sense. It is insensitive. But Chard Councillors on Area West pushed hard for it.

Chard Town Council had already voted an extra £15,000 as their contribution (making £30,000 in all). But we can only point out that Chard Town Council have doubled their contribution, but SSDC are being asked to nearly treble theirs to £67,135. That might merit someone taking another look at whether or not this project is reasonable.

It would make more sense if there was less sense of urgency. If some of those who were to lose their jobs at Oscar Mayer could be employed on this very project. Yet SSDC’s sense of urgency to complete it, means that is highly unlikely to happen. And that sense of urgency is hard to understand. The swimming pool is already running several months late. And bearing in mind the COVID 19 outbreak, really that seems entirely reasonable. So what would be wrong in taking a bit more time and regenerating Chard with local labour and skills?

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