This is a warning. What follows is a verbatim press release from the grey Lubyanka that is Walsall Civic Centre. Anyone who is currently drinking any kind of beverage may wish to take a few seconds to swallow and place their cup somewhere safe. What you’re about to read may well make you splutter…
Walsall Council PR 4823 19/03/2010 [For Immediate Release]
New council base a ‘brilliant result for taxpayers’
Smart-thinking by Walsall Council has led to them getting a £7 million purpose-build depot for a six figure sum.
More than 400 employees will be based at the new hub in Pelsall Road, Brownhills. The move breathes new life into the former Wagon Automotive works which has been empty for two years.
Costs are being eased thanks to the sale for housing of the current Street Pride depots in Norfolk and Suffolk Place, Bloxwich.
Councillor Mike Bird, Walsall Council Leader, said the move showed real value for money.
He said: “This is excellent news and it’s good to see work progressing well.
“The truth of the matter is that we have negotiated a brilliant result for taxpayers.
“The deal we have struck means that the sale of our existing depots in Norfolk and Suffolk Places has brought the costs down massively.
“This effectively means that we have a £7 million depot and we only have to pay a six figure sum. That’s good business in anyone’s book.”
More than 400 staff will be based at the site which will include office space as well as a base for 52 refuse vehicles and grounds maintenance teams. Social services staff and other teams will also be based at the new hub. The new site will replace the current Street Pride depot which was in need of expensive modernisation in order to meet the 21st century.
Councillor Adrian Andrew, Walsall Council Deputy Leader and cabinet member for regeneration, said that the project also breathes new life into what was a high profile casualty of the recession. He said: “It was a sad day when Wagon Automotive closed but we have worked hard to agree a deal that would bring the site back into use. This is good news for Brownhills and Walsall taxpayers.”
The new depot will be a 21st century home for waste teams to help them do their jobs better, says Councillor Mike Flower, Walslal Council cabinet member for environment.
He said: “It was clear that our current depot needed a lot of money to bring up to scratch. By doing this we have something that we can use for years to come at much reduced cost.
“The current depot is surrounded by houses while the new venture is in an industrial area well away from people’s homes.”
Tony Ryan, Mar City Developments chairman, said: “We are delighted to be working with Walsall Council to deliver this exciting new facility.They have been very professional to work with both members and officers.”
Now I must admit, this one caught me on the hop a little. I’d imagined, that since Mike ‘Blofeld’ Bird was so keen on public consultation, that before the masterplan for the new council depot was enacted, that there would be some kind of planning process or public exploration of the proposals. I would at least have expected some detailing of the financial facts and to see the case for this move to be made to the public – but alas, no. Big Mike knows what’s good for us all, and we’re meekly going to accept it, whether we like it or not.
I blogged about this proposal when news first broke about the prospect of the former Wagon Automotive factory complex becoming a new council depot way back last summer. Since then, contractors have continued to grind most of the buildings into ballast, leaving only the former press shop and offices at the eastern side of the site. The task to render the not inconsiderable fabric of the abandoned automotive plant into rubble has been a huge undertaking. Somebody has clearly paid a massive amount of money to clear the site and deal with the contamination. It’s not the kind of project one commences speculatively.
Notwithstanding the abject spin that is contained in the press release, I’m a bit concerned that our beleaguered leader seems to think we’ve got any faith whatsoever in his council’s ability to judge what’s good for taxpayers. Since they’ve recently found to be incapable of keeping track of simple community funding – which is set to cost the town two and a half million quid in the form of payments back to a less than amused EU – I have little faith that this wheeze, like others that went so wonderfully well, with Fujitsu, Amey and Serco. An excellent deal for road maintenance with Tarmac is already paying dividends, as anyone traversing local roads will no doubt be aware.
It’s also interesting that Marcity have got the land at Norfolk place. That must mean that planners have already agreed to grant permission for whatever the developers want, otherwise they risk being stuck with a white elephant. The most surprising thing of all about this whole saga is the quiescence of the councillors whose constituents will be directly affected by the transfer of some of the heaviest municipal vehicles from a relatively central location to the very outskirts of the borough. How will Marco Longhi, a man never reluctant to pander to the NIMBYS, handle the complaints from pissed-off Pelsallites being woken at 5AM by refuse lorries trundling through the slumbering village? Will the good people of Bloxwich and Brownhills be happy that their early mornings will now be punctuated by the sound of council plant travelling extra mileage for no discernable reason whatsoever?
Far from being a brilliant deal for Walsall taxpayers, I would tenure that this endeavour will end in the same kind of half-baked, costly mess that such money saving deals always seem to result in. After all, these people can’t be trusted with a simple town market, let alone multi-million pound property deals.