“Serious concerns” have been raised by Wirral councillors over recent decisions related to its Birkenhead regeneration plans.
Councillors from different parties at a Wirral Council audit and risk management committee, which scrutinises council decisions, asked for an update on work looking into the local authority’s regeneration plans and the risks related to those projects. One even called the current situation “unacceptable.”
Wirral has plans for ambitious developments across the borough focusing on Birkenhead with thousands of homes proposed, major changes to its town centre, as well as future plans for Birkenhead Market.
The market faces an uncertain future after plans were revealed to move it into an empty Argos unit in the Pyramids shopping centre. The proposal has been criticised by some market traders but the local authority has already spent £24,000 on the plans.
It is also understood to have plans to spend £6m on refurbishing the Argos unit as well as use grant funding to pay costs for previous market plans at the old House of Fraser on Grange Road.
A report provided to the committee on 24 October updated councillors on progress by internal audit inspectors to “obtain assurances over the effectiveness and efficiency of programme governance arrangements within Regeneration systems in operation across the Council.”
Cllr Stuart Kelly said given recent reporting by the LDRS, he had serious concerns about how the schemes were managed, adding: “As a Birkenhead councillor, I’m fed up reading things in the newspaper that should have been reported to me as a member.”
He added: “How on earth the situation with the market has not been properly discussed with the programme committee is beyond me? How on earth we managed to spend £24,000 on a potential relocation to Argos is also beyond me?”
He said he wanted assurances from auditors of reporting between officers and councillors, adding: “I just don’t know as a member of this council what is going on.”
Chief Internal Auditor Mark Niblock said a report would go to the council’s Chief Executive Paul Satoor and come back to committee. This will include whether reporting arrangements on decisions were effective.
Cllr Paula Basnett raised questions about reports on the purchase of the Pyramids shopping centre and asked if the audit team could look at the council’s programme delivery plan and the associated risks attached to those projects.
She also asked whether the council had the capacity to deliver its plans given a number of senior officers had left the council over the last year. An audit update report said there were several key issues affecting regeneration including “human resource allocation within the regeneration and growth team.”
Councillors also received a report on the costs of the West Kirby sea wall scheme and how contracts were awarded. Though some concerns were raised about the project particularly in relation to the RNLI, councillors said they were satisfied following oversight work by the council, the Environment Agency, and the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on the project.
Image: Wirral Growth Company