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Haverfordwest interchange scrutiny call fails but project will cost millions less

A temporary car park is to be sited on the demolished remains of Haverfordwest’s multi-storey car park (pic: PCC)

A CALL for Haverfordwest’s transport interchange to come under the scrutiny of full council was defeated by just one vote, but the project as a whole will see a cheaper version built, to the tune of more than £10m.

The second stage of building Haverfordwest’s transport interchange was backed by Pembrokeshire County Council’s Cabinet last month, with members hearing it could cost the council more to not support it.

The transport interchange, which includes an integrated bus station and construction of a new multi-storey car park, is part of a wider series of regeneration projects in the county town.

The total cost of the Welsh Government grant-supported scheme in the approved budget is £18.881m, £1.987m coming from Pembrokeshire County Council.

At the April Cabinet meeting, a report for members warned that if the scheme was not backed then Welsh government could withdraw its grant funding, with some £3.376m spent on the project to date, which could be reclaimed.

After that meeting, a successful ‘call-in’ for the matter to be discussed at the council’s Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting of May 7 was made by the council’s Welsh Conservative group, led by Cllr Di Clements.

It asked for “full and proper scrutiny” of the decision, saying the Cabinet decision had “little discussion on how the ‘value engineering’ of this project will affect the project overall”.

At the May 7 meeting, deputy leader Cllr Paul Miller labelled the ‘call-in’ politically motivated, saying: “The council had a car park that wasn’t very good, and we’re building a better one,” adding: “Cabinet didn’t vote for something they didn’t understand, every member in that room knew what they were voting for.

“It’s going to cost a lot more not to do this project than to do it; I think this is a purely political exercise, nonsense really, if Pembrokeshire County Council can’t rebuild a knackered carpark in its county town centre what is going on?”

Cllr Paul Miller at Monday’s cabinet

Following a successful call by Cllr Aled Thomas for some confidential details of the ‘value engineering’ reductions in costs were made public; the cost of the overall project reduced by some £10m-plus, from an early estimate figure of £25m for the original scheme highlighted in the now-public documents.

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The ‘value engineering’ includes a reduction in size of the scheme, from 320 to 290 larger parking spaces, including the removal of a ‘green roof’ and other infrastructure.

“I struggle to see how you can take £10m off a project and it fundamentally be the same project,” Cllr Thomas said.

Cllr Aled Thomas (Pic: Pembrokeshire County Council)

Cllr Miller told members: “This has been an exercise in cutting our cloth, but we think we found the right balance.”

Councillor Tony Wilcox said: “We’re getting basically the same scheme for £10m less, virtually like-for-like, it’s good all round; I only wish it was in Pembroke Dock.”

The issue of the changed figures drew the ire of former council leader Cllr Jamie Adams, who said: “Part of the scandal surrounding the project is the figures [over time] have been so wildly fluctuating, £8m then £18m, we never really had an explanation as to why that was; then up to £25m, and now down to £14.5m.

“The public are rightly asking ‘what an earth is going on?’.”

He added: “We’ve had a fait accompli and such wildly conflicting reports about how much it’s going to cost; you would struggle to find 10 per cent of the people I’ve spoken to say they were in support of this scheme.

“We’re simply reflecting the views we’re being given; we’ve become a bit of a laughing-stock because the costs of this have gone up and down, up and down.”

Councillor Jamie Adams (Pic: Pembrokeshire County Council webcast)

Cllr Miller finished by saying: “Here we are, half way down the road to building this car park, it’s £1.9m to deliver, if we don’t deliver we’ll have to spend much more to have a gravel car park we have now.”

A call was made by Cllr Thomas for the scheme to return to full council, along with potential revisions to the scheme.

“The issue here isn’t the car park in itself, it’s the way it’s been handled; the fact is the Cabinet meeting was done and dusted in 10 minutes.”

He formally proposed: “Given the significance of this project, the committee wish for full council to provide full scrutiny of this project at a council level before returning its recommendation to the cabinet.

“The committee request that Cllr Miller engage with the Welsh Government as to whether it is possible for a revision to be made to this project and its funding as a result of town centres changing drastically post Covid-19, and that should also be discussed at the council meeting.”

That call was defeated by seven votes to six, the original Cabinet decision standing.