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Contractor paid £350k of taxpayers' cash after Felixstowe gardens work dispute

PUBLISHED: 15:43 24 June 2017

TJ Haworth-Culf, cabinet member for Suffolk Coastal, officially opening the final phase of the Felixstowe Seafront Gardens renovation. Picture: LUCY TAYLOR

TJ Haworth-Culf, cabinet member for Suffolk Coastal, officially opening the final phase of the Felixstowe Seafront Gardens renovation. Picture: LUCY TAYLOR

Archant

A company working on the multi-million pound restoration of Felixstowe's nationally-acclaimed seafront gardens was paid £350,000 of taxpayers' money to terminate the contract, it has been revealed.

Felixstowe's restored Edwardian gardens on the seafront funded by the National Lottery. Picture: PHILIP JONESFelixstowe's restored Edwardian gardens on the seafront funded by the National Lottery. Picture: PHILIP JONES

Suffolk Coastal District Council was forced to spend £2.6m extra on the project, including the compensation, cost of a new contract and £86,000 legal costs.

Full details have finally come to light after a two-year battle by Felixstowe resident Roy Gray.

Suffolk Coastal refused to tell Mr Gray the amount of compensation paid to contractors P Casey (Land Reclamation) Ltd as a settlement after it halted the £4.8m project following a dispute over progress of the scheme.

Mr Gray was not satisfied with the response to his Freedom of Information (FOI) request and so took his case to the Ombudman, who ruled in his favour and said the council should disclose the information.

Felixstowe's award-winning seafront gardensFelixstowe's award-winning seafront gardens

The council has now sent Mr Gray a letter saying £350,000 was paid to P Casey.

Mr Gray said: “I was not being vindictive, not calling for anyone’s head, I accept an error was made but I felt the council should admit that and say how much it has cost.

“I am a taxpayer and I wanted to know how much it had cost us – it was public money being spent and should be in the public domain.

“I didn’t accept the reasons the council was giving and I am pleased that disclosure has now been made, even though it was a battle and took some time.

Felixstowe Seafront Gardens. Picture: SIMON PARKERFelixstowe Seafront Gardens. Picture: SIMON PARKER

“I think the seafront gardens are wonderful, superb, and a credit to Felixstowe and Suffolk Coastal council.”

The council terminated P Casey’s contract, claiming the company was in breach of contract. However, an independent adjudication into the dispute later blamed the council – saying that the authority was in breach of contract and was not entitled to cancel the work.

A council spokesman said: “Suffolk Coastal District Council was extremely disappointed when it had to terminate the original contract for carrying out the renovation work on the Seafront Gardens Project in Felixstowe.

“However, in 2015, the council was faced with difficult decisions and took positive action to get the renovation work back on track, bringing in new contractors and strengthening the management round the project.

Roy Gray complained to the Ombudsman over SCDC's refusal to publish information concerning the town's restored gardensRoy Gray complained to the Ombudsman over SCDC's refusal to publish information concerning the town's restored gardens

“However, at the time, because of a confidentiality agreement, the Council could not disclose the figure paid to the original contactor to terminate its contract. The Information Commissioner has now ruled that we can release the figure in response to a Freedom of Information request, so the figure of £350,000 is now rightly in the public domain.

“Although we had a very difficult and frustrating journey with this project, Suffolk Coastal takes pride in the fact we successfully delivered this major renovation project, investing in the future prosperity of Felixstowe.

“The restored Gardens now provide a centre-piece for visitors and local people within a vibrant Felixstowe seafront.’

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