Outrage at overspend on Devonshire Park project

Congress Theatre in Eastbourne undergoing major building works (Photo by Jon Rigby) SUS-170327-104429008
Congress Theatre in Eastbourne undergoing major building works (Photo by Jon Rigby) SUS-170327-104429008

The news that spending on the Devonshire Park development is set to rocket by an extra £9.8 million has been met with fierce criticism by Conservative councillors.

They have accused the Liberal Democrat administration at Eastbourne council of spending “out of control”.

It was revealed last week that the cost of the multi million project – including refurbishing the tennis offering, Congress Theatre, Devonshire Park Theatre and creating a new Welcome Building – has jumped to £53.8 million with Brexit, a lack of workforce, rising costs and an overheated construction market to blame.

The council is having to borrow an extra £4 million to complete the project and admits some of the refurbishment – especially at the Winter Garden – will not now be delivered.

Conservative group leader Tony Freebody said serious questions must be answered by the Liberal Democrats over whether they are able to competently manage the development.

“The cost of Devonshire Park is now out of control and is causing considerable concern especially because it will be the Eastbourne taxpayer who has to pick up a bill that is going up by millions every few months,” said Councillor Freebody.

“We need to know what on earth is going on and why the cost is ballooning at such an alarming rate. The Lib Dem leader of the council must make a public statement explaining this enormous cost rise and he must do it quickly.”

Fellow councillor Robert Smart said a previous Lib Dem explanation that Brexit was to blame was nonsense.

He said, “The Liberal Democrats might like to think our leaving the EU is a convenient smokescreen to explain this massive cost increase but most people would like to know exactly how it is Brexit, which hasn’t happened yet, is the reason ‘professional fees and development costs’ have sky rocketed by £1.9 million to £5.6 million from an original figure of £3.7 million?

“Brexit is not to blame here. I think the real reason is the Lib Dem led borough council is simply not able to manage this development properly and the tax payer will have to pick up the tab.

“Perhaps it’s time they admitted their failings before it’s too late.

“The Liberal-Democrat controlled borough council running the project has now overseen two cost rises in the last year from £44 million to £49.7 million and now to £53.8 million.

“In total, the cost has now jumped by £9.8 million. To make matters worse, the original £6.4 million contingency fund for the project has been almost exhausted and the planned scope of works on the Winter Gardens has reduced from £6.9m to just £2.1m.

“This means there is not even money to refurbish the toilets in the Winter Gardens and give the building a coat of paint but the costs continue to rise.”

Eastbourne council leader David Tutt told the Herald, “Conservative councillors should be well aware of how projects can sometimes go over budget.

“The overspend on the Bexhill Relief Road by the Conservative controlled county council was an eye watering £70 million.

“Regarding the Devonshire Park Project, the impact of Brexit on the contractor’s costs and the ensuing difficulty they had in obtaining competitive sub-contractor prices for works in Eastbourne, given our location and the draw of the London market, has played a significant part in this budget increase.

“Additionally, the decision to invest more money than originally planned in the construction of brand new changing facilities for the world’s top tennis players, has helped to secure the future of international tennis in Eastbourne for another ten years.

“Like many projects of this scale there have also been design and site issues that only emerged as work progressed. However, the redevelopment of the Devonshire Park Quarter is on schedule to be completed by March 2019.

“The project will generate around 100 additional jobs and an extra £800,000 to £1m of return to the Council. Crucially, despite the increased cost of the project, the business case for the investment and the returns the project will generate are still hugely positive.”