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Greenham Control Tower audit puts further works on hold

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Governance and finance criticised but project still on track says parish council

FURTHER works to transform a Cold War control tower into a visitor centre and café at Greenham Common have been temporarily halted after an audit into the parish council’s handling of the project questioned both its governance and finances.

The news comes a week after revelations that the parish council had unnecessarily spent an estimated £60,000 in a second planning application earlier this year, as the council already had the appropriate change of use dating back to January 2000.

Greenham Parish Council’s redevelopment project remains on course to open in the spring, according to councillors, but at a parish council meeting held last Wednesday it was revealed that following the audit the scheme now risked breaching the council’s own financial orders.

The independent audit conducted by accountants BDO was ordered after former chairman Tony Forward quit the parish and former clerk John Boston retired, leaving only Julian Swift-Hook to manage the project.

Speaking at last week’s meeting, councillor Steve Westbrook said of the control tower project: “There is a funding shortfall. We don’t know the costs of some of the additional work to be done and that puts it in breach of Clause 4.6.

“In my opinion, no further commitments should be made in respect of the control tower expenditure until we have the requisite funding in place.”

He also revealed issues with the governance of the project and said: “There are some quite high level criticisms about the governance of the control tower and that needs to be put on the table.”

Speaking of the finances, acting clerk Heather Westbrook said: “We are not going to commit to any further works other than that which we have already committed to.

“That’s not forever, but just until we have considered everything properly.”

The clause referred to – Clause 4.6, from the parish’s own financial orders – states: “No expenditure shall be authorised in relation to any capital project and no contract entered into or tender accepted involving capital expenditure unless the council is satisfied that the necessary funds are available and the requisite borrowing approval has been obtained (if required).”

Arguing his case for the scheme, Julian Swift-Hook, said: “We have an appropriate funding arrangement.

“The requisite funding is available to complete the work that has already been scheduled.

“There’s not that much to finish off. The electrical work is shortly to be finished and the next major piece of work which would be starting in January is the plastering and decorating.

“So from that point of view the impact would not be that great so I can see the reasoning about being cautious.”

Speaking after the meeting Heather Westbrook explained: “We haven’t breached the clause, there is the potential to breach it. We need to be careful as we are getting closer to opening. We are being cautious. We have spent a huge amount on the control tower.”

Julian Swift-Hook said later that he still expects refurbishment work to be completed by spring.

He said: “We have had a number of unexpected costs and issues to deal with over the lifetime of the project – not least the substantial costs and time involved in pursuing the unnecessary planning application.

“This has put a lot of pressure on our budget as well as causing significant delays, and regrettably a few elements of the overall project not related to the refurbishment works have had to be postponed as a result.

“We are clearly seeking alternative funding for the postponed items, and we are confident that this will be resolved in the early part of next year.

“Clearly, we can’t do these things until funding is in place, but meanwhile the refurbishment work is continuing.”

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