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Councillor queries Old Coronation School grant payments

queriesA MILFORD HAVEN county councillor has raised queries about grants payments for work claimed to have been done to buildings using public funds.

County Councillor Mike Stoddard has posted on his internet blog, Old Grumpy, information and photographs which he suggest shows that money has been paid out for improvements to a property which have never been carried out.

The claims relate to Old Coronation School in Pembroke Dock, which is owned by an Irish property developer.

Cllr. Stoddard posted:
“I managed to find the information during the public audit inspection in August. This was after the County Council refused my request for the full and final costings for projects under the Haven Towns Regeneration Scheme on the grounds of commercial confidentiality. I am waiting for the Information Commissioner to rule on whether that decision was correct.

“I was particularly interested in the two large chimneys/turrets at the Coronation School. The rebuilding of these had been costed at almost £14,000 (including scaffolding) in the final account for the grant-aided project.

“When I visited previously, I came away with the impression that these chimneys/turrets were still in their original condition. I heard, however, that Cabinet members were assured that they have been rebuilt and that the final account certificate is accurate. So, I made a return visit and took some photographs.

“One thing I noticed on closer inspection was the extensive plant life on the south facing wall of the left hand chimney.

“I realise that Coronation School is in a conservation area, but this is taking biodiversity to ridiculous extremes.

“I will leave it to readers to decide whether this sort of growth is possible in the period since these chimneys were, allegedly, rebuilt.

“Mind you, on reflection, this could all be part of the £20,000 planting scheme that also appears in the final account. £20,000 was supposed to buy a landscaped and sympathetically planted area. What it appears to have purchased is a truckload of gravel.

“The final account includes: slate felt and batten £46,924 and ridge tiles £3,645.

“The photos show what that £50,000+ has actually bought. “The Council has published a press release saying the scheme has been a great success. But I think they are cherry picking relative successes to disguise serious failures.”.

Controversial Cathal McCosker’s ability to corner the market in European grant aid in Pembroke and Pembroke Dock has already hit the headlines in Pembrokeshire’s Best Magazine. The sister publication to The Herald revealed that Mr McCosker or companies with which he was involved, had circumvented the upper limit on receipt of grant aid for building projects in Pembroke Dock.

This was done by using different companies to apply for European grant assistance for his projects. Christening Mr McCosker “The Baron of the Bedsits”, the magazine revealed that there was at least one instance where a grant was provisionally offered to Mr McCosker before he had completed his purchase of the property in question. It is not suggested that Mr McCosker did anything unlawful by attracting grant funding for his projects by using different corporate vehicles to obtain the grant money.

Earlier this year, a stormy meeting of Pembrokeshire County Council’s planning committee threw out an application made by Mr McCosker for retrospective planning permission for bedsits in the old NatWest branch in Meyrick Street, Pembroke Dock.

Council officers had backed the grant of planning permission, even though the meeting revealed that they had withheld information from Councillors on the committee about criminality and antisocial behaviour at the premises.

Shortly after that meeting, Pembrokeshire’s Best reported that the Council had agreed with Cathal McCosker for a scheme to convert buildings near the iconic Pembroke Castle into yet more bedsit accommodation.

Mr McCosker later withdrew from the scheme in the face of local opposition to his plans.

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Tom Sinclair

Tom Sinclair

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