A LYME Regis councillor told fellow members to “stop wasting ratepayers’ money”, as they discussed a major project which could cost a total of £330,000.
Councillor Derek Hallett said plans for the flat roof area above SWIM, Lyme Regis Antiques & Craft Centre and the Amusement Arcade on Marine Parade were “miles over the top”.
The area urgently needs to be re-roofed as it is currently leaking water into the businesses below – all of which are tenants of the town council – with work estimated to cost between £150,000 and 180,000.
But councillors are now planning to spend £200,000 on the project, with hopes of securing a further £130,000 from the Dorset LEADER Programme, to create an amenities area on the currently under-used site.
The project will create a new, all-weather, accessible venue, which could accommodate 2,500 people for year-round events, festivals and activities.
In its initial application to the Dorset LEADER Programme, the council said it would benefit all ages, interests and abilities, and would be available for use by residents and visitors alike.
The application added: “It will support the local and rural economy by helping to extend the tourism offer and season, provide opportunities for employment, business activity and regular performance use of a fabulous, natural, seafront amphitheatre.
“In addition, it will promote health and wellbeing through opportunities for outdoor leisure, recreation, relaxation and exercise. It will also increase appreciation of the natural environment of the Jurassic Coast and landmark features such as the Cobb and Golden Cap from an accessible viewing area with new interpretation material…
“It will support local traders by offering a bookable trading outlet and compliment other local year-round facilities such as the Marine Parade shelters.”
At this week’s Strategy & Finance Committee meeting, councillors were asked to approve a budget of up to £200,000 from the council’s reserves – which stood at £1.5million at the end of March – and to submit a full application to the Dorset LEADER Programme by December 6 with John Stark Crickmay Partnership carrying out the initial design before going out to tender.
Councillor Hallett said: “I think this is miles over the top and we’re talking about ratepayers’ money here. We have got a bit in reserves but we should wait for a disaster before we spend that.
“We have got a roof that leaks; the obvious answer is to repair it to make sure it doesn’t leak, and make it safe for people to walk on. That’s all that needs doing. Now we’re looking at something like £330,000, that’s ludicrous!
“All we’ve got is roof that leaks that needs repairing and people can walk on it, no more than that. You cannot go on wasting ratepayers’ money like you are, you just keep wasting ratepayers’ money.”
Councillor Brian Larcombe also expressed concerns about some of the estimated costs, including professional fees of £40,000, and suggested money could be saved on some design features, such as engraved glass balustrades being replaced with plain glass.
“I’m absolutely behind the need to replace the roof, my concern is we don’t make this into something more expensive than it needs to be,” he added.
Town clerk John Wright said this was “not an insignificant project” and the roof had to be replaced as it had been there for 50 years.
“Gone are the days when we can do temporary repairs,” he said.
The Mayor, Councillor Michaela Ellis, agreed, adding: “The roof needs doing, we have tenants below that and if we keep patching it’s going to end up costing us this amount in the long run.
“If we can get some kind of grant funding to add to what we’ve got that will enhance things for our residents and visitors, we should be trying to do it.”
Councillor Stan Williams was also concerned about the costs and suggested the council look around more when choosing who should carry out the work.
He commented: “It’s quite frightening what we pay outside people to do jobs for this council. We’re spending a fortune on high-paid officers who really are just looking out for themselves and making sure they take home lots of money.”
He added that £40,000 for professional fees was “surely a joke”.
Councillor Hallett also suggested that cheaper quotes could be found, using the recently-erected deer fencing at the Charmouth Road allotments as an example; it was originally expected to cost £25,000 and ended up costing £2,500.
“Perhaps we ought to have a couple of senior, sensible councillors look into a bit deeper and find anymore reasonable estimates,” he added.
Councillor Owen Lovell commented: “The only reason it’s £330,000 now is because Lyme Regis Town Council has perpetually put it off. It could have been done for £150,000 the last time it was seriously looked at. The cost is down to the council’s prevarication.”
Councillor Cheryl Reynolds added: “It was a problem and we left it last time when it would have cost £150,000. If we leave it again how much more is it going to cost in the future? We need to deal with this now.”
Councillor John Broom said the figures were just estimates and “not set in stone”.
“Let’s get on with it, please,” he added.
Councillor Sean Larcombe also agreed, saying “the time to tend and make-do is over, it’s now time to renew and put some new stuff there”.
It was agreed to allocate a budget of up to £200,000 out of the town council’s reserves for the project, and to submit a full grant application to the Dorset LEADER Programme by December 6, with hopes of work beginning in February.
In the meantime, patch repairs are being carried out to the roof to ensure businesses underneath are protected during the winter season.