The latest problem project for Hastings Borough Council is the Country Park Visitors Centre. When first put forward it looked like an exciting project and with the utilisation of some EU funding it was given the green light. Seven years have now passed since it was given approval and it is still unfinished, many years over schedule, building costs ballooning from it’s original budget and with their project partner, Groundworks South pulling out of the project, Hastings Borough Council will be left to find staff to open it’s doors and welcome visitors.
To gauge how badly wrong it has gone we have to go back to 2014 and the original plans and what they were going to cost. The original plans were expensive at £653,000 but because some of the building was going to actually be made out of straw, there was going to be some EU money available to help fund it. However, the costs quickly got out of control and within a couple of years of no work even starting on the building work the plans were back needing more money to start work. The total has, by this point, risen to £770,000. Agreeing to this was a mistake by the Labour leadership because to agree this additional funding tied in the taxpayers of Hastings to more and more additional funding until it was going to be completed. The building is nearing completion and the new extra funding takes the total up to a giddy £1.1 million. This is a huge sum that belies the modesty of the building. The building is 225sqm or 2422sqft which means that the Visitors Centre is one of the most expensive buildings in the world to build, coming out at £4,933 per square metre or £458 per square foot to build. To put this into perspective, the current price to build on Manhattan Island is about $350 (£257) a square foot.
The terrifying numbers do not stop there sadly. ‘Groundworks South’ were going to provide staffing but have sensibly decided to back away from what is clearly a troubled project. This means that Hastings Borough Council has now had to find an additional £40,000 a year to cover staff costs. This is, I suspect, an underestimate of the amount of money for staffing. According to the councils pay policy, the cost of employing two staff at the very lowest payscale point plus employers pensions contributions etc would add up to about £40,000 but it does not take into consideration additional costs or pay increases over time. I think a more realistic sum would be £50,000. Groundworks were planning on running a café out of the visitors centre to recoup the costs of staffing and turn a small profit. I asked some years ago if a cost analysis had been done about what could be made from a café, it had not been done. If the Labour leadership of Hastings Borough Council want to make back the £40,000 for the staffing of the centre with a café they would have to sell about 20,000 cups of tea a year to do so.
What is more likely to happen is that the local taxpayer, that’s you and me, will yet again have to bail out the council from this sad story of bad decisions made with their money. So when it does eventually open please do visit the new centre and decide for yourself if it is worth a million pounds.
Cllr Rob Lee