Councillors meet behind closed doors to discuss ‘unfit’ Mochdre business units
Councillors met secretly on Monday to discuss the latest on the legal position of “unfit” business units earmarked for use as a temporary morgue during the pandemic.
Units 6, 7, 8 and part of unit 5 on Mochdre Commercial Park were originally supposed to house Conwy county council’s fleet of HGVs, such as bin lorries and gritters, but defects in the building meant they couldn’t be used.
A damning independent report uncovered a lack of “physical due diligence” among what one councillor called “a really quite shaming catalogue of errors”, and the study highlighted 21 issues with the buildings and land.
It also revealed a lack of leadership, policies ignored or misunderstood and no one being held to account for organisational failings which permeated the local authority’s project management.
Welsh Government money has gone into the units because they were being used a regional overspill morgue during the pandemic, although the site was never needed for that purpose. Latterly, it has been used as a store for PPE.
Conwy county council took on the property in 2016 on a 35-year lease, with a 15-year break clause, as part of a £240,000 per annum plus VAT leasehold agreement.
Independent investigators found “no evidence of any conflict of interest or inappropriate behaviour by CCBC staff members” with regard to the deal but slammed the lack of oversight.
It’s cost the council more than £1m in rent and legal fees so far for a building that couldn’t be used for its original purpose.
There’s still been no legal recourse against the landlords RR Sea Strand Limited, formerly called Conygar Strand Ltd before the company changed its name and its two directors left in 2017.
RR Sea Strand Ltd’s latest annual accounts say it is owned by Jersey-based Regional Commercial Midco Ltd, which is in turn a wholly owned subsidiary of Guernsey-based Regional REIT Limited.
Previous attempts to speak to anyone associated with the company have been fruitless.
Regional REIT announced last November it is disposing of its commercial properties such as Mochdre to concentrate on the office market.
On Monday, Conwy county council’s finance and resources scrutiny committee met to discuss the units behind closed doors, without members of the press or public able to attend.
It’s not known whether the meeting relates to the landlords disposing of their commercial property but the reasons for not holding the meeting openly were given under Section 12a of the Local Government act 1972 – Exemption of Disclosure of Documents as containing: “Information relating to the financial or business affairs of any particular person (including the Authority holding that information)” or “Information in respect of which a claim to legal professional privilege could be maintained in legal proceedings”.
It also said a further report was to be exempted from disclosure because it may “prejudice the authority’s and the landlord’s position during negotiations to resolve outstanding issues”.
This year there is a clause to renegotiate the rent with the landlords but this would need agreement from both sides.
About the previously released independent report into the fiasco which allowed the “unfit for purpose” units to be bought in the first place, Iwan Davies, the council’s CEO, went on record saying he remained “bitterly despondent about what happened”.
Audit Wales said the “absence of project management for the property at Mochdre Commerce Park was the root cause of the problems which occurred” but said the council now has “clearly defined and improving project management arrangements”.
Among the safeguards backed by Audit Wales and put in place to stop anything similar happening again, are:
All senior managers are undergoing project training and the council is making sure they all understand the definition of a project – as one of the issues was officers not recognising it as one at the time Information sharing will make sure all departments are aware of who is in charge of future projects, what their responsibilities are and where they are up to
The estates and asset management function has now been removed from the strategic director of finance and resources and handed to the strategic director of economy and place
By Jez Hemming – Local Democracy Reporter
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