Eastbourne council denies £5m Devonshire Park ‘overspend’

Devonshire Park (Photo by Jon Rigby)
Devonshire Park (Photo by Jon Rigby)

Eastbourne council has been accused of overspending on the Devonshire Park development and ‘massaging the figures’ by £5 million.

The town’s Conservative group has criticised the Lib Dem controlled council and said it is attempting to ‘gloss over’ the true state of the project’s finances – with an increased spend from £44m to £49m.

Conservative councillors said they only learned ‘by chance’ of the increase in September, and consequently requested an analysis and explanation.

They say nothing about the rise has come before the full council, or the scrutiny committee.

Councillor Robert Smart said, “This is a very worrying development on many counts and it does raise serious questions about the actions of the council and the transparency and governance of this scheme which is now costing millions more than first planned.

“Even worse, it appears the council is trying to massage the figures to paint itself in a better light and I only discovered the discrepancy by chance.

“EBC will have to borrow £5m extra with Eastbourne council taxpayers in line to foot the bill. We need answers and the public needs reassurance the council can deliver this project following this substantial cost increase.”

Responding, Council leader David Tutt said, “The answer is simply that the tenders came back higher than the initial estimates, which were compiled before Brexit.

“It is common knowledge that following Brexit the value of the pound has gone down and made construction costs higher.

“We had a budget of £44m of council money that we were planning to spend on this project and this is still the case.

“Since setting the budget we have been fortunate in gaining a grant of £5m from the South East LEP, that we are very grateful for and without which we would have had to make some big cuts to the work that is planned.

“The Conservatives should not be surprised at expenditure exceeding estimates.

“The original estimates for the Bexhill Relief Road, built by the Conservative controlled county council, were less than £50m and they told us that most of that would come from government grant.

“However, in the end the cost was £120m and the cost will be met by local council taxpayers.”