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Council 'wasted' £22k on Coyte Farm studies

By Cornish Guardian  |  Posted: March 04, 2014

Comments (5)

CORNWALL Council has come under fire for "wasting taxpayers' money" after it revealed more than £22,000 of public money was spent on studies looking at the impact the £110 million retail development at Coyte Farm would have on trade in St Austell.

In August 2012, the council commissioned property consultants GVA to complete a retail impact assessment to gauge what impact the proposed retail park and supermarket in St Mewan would have on existing shops in the town.

Although the assessment was completed in May 2013, the local authority chose not to make the findings public until October 2013, the Cornish Guardian has learnt.

In the meantime, it commissioned Chase and Partners, a different consultancy firm, to carry out a second assessment – costing the council an additional £10,725, excluding VAT.

During the debate on the Coyte Farm planning application, at the council's strategic planning committee in January, some councillors said the retail impact assessments were worthless, as they provided conflicting evidence and they were unsure which to trust.

Jonathan Isaby, chief executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance, criticised the council for the additional spend on the studies.

"Councillors can't pick and choose which assessments they like, and don't like, when taxpayers are footing the bill each time," he said.

"A healthy dose of transparency is urgently needed in this case."

Following a freedom of information request, the council revealed it spent £11,600, excluding VAT, on the original GVA assessment and an amended version of the report, which took into account planning decisions made after the first was completed. Both reports concluded the development at Coyte Farm would result in a diversion of trade from shops in the town centre of around 28 per cent.

Matt Morris, director of GVA, said the council had been using his consultancy firm since it became a unitary authority in 2009 and, to his knowledge, it had never previously sought a secondary assessment from an alternative firm after commissioning GVA.

The council defended its decision to withhold the original GVA report from the public.

"The retail impact study concerning the Coyte Farm planning application was undertaken by GVA for the council and was completed in May 2013," a council spokesman said.

"However, the report was not released pending the outcome of Chase and Partners' work.

"The reason for this was that the council did not want to drip feed information relating to this application into the public domain, but rather it wanted to present all of the work undertaken in relation to the retail impact of the proposed development to provide as full a picture as possible."

The council said the second report was commissioned to assist the authority in understanding the scale of the disparities between the applicant's retail impact assessment and the report undertaken by the council's consultant.

The spokesman added: "The council considered that this expense was justified as the application was significant and it wanted to ensure that councillors had sufficient information to reach a view on the potential retail impact from the proposed development."

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  • MarjProops  |  March 05 2014, 9:38AM

    I believe the developer also commissioned their own consultants to carry out an impact assessment so all in all I guess there were 3 assessments carried out. All the assessments made very different reading and it is no wonder that some of the Councillors on the planning committee thought that they were a waste of time. In my view these assessments are very subjective and influenced by the opinions of the people carrying them out. They can therefore reflect their own agendas, not to mention the slant that the people paying for the work can put on it. There doesn't seem to be a standard or set formula otherwise all assessments would have been similar. It was also surprising to learn that GVA does not carry out an audit of its work after the event to see how accurate it was. ie when planning is approved and construction completed, nobody goes back to check whether their original assessment was correct. I find this weak and in my view "slap dash" as they should be checking that their methodology is sound for future analysis that they might get commissioned to do. The planning officer had sight of all the assessments and in his view the disadvantages outlined in the assessments was outweighed by the advantages the development would bring in terms of jobs etc and he therefore recommended approval for the development. Obviously some of the councillors got hung up or confused with the conflicting information and probably voted the wrong way. It is a shame because even more tax payers money is very likely to be wasted by the Council if the developers take this application to appeal which sound likely if their revised plans get turned down later this year.

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  • JessicaIs  |  March 05 2014, 12:03AM

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  • cornwall999  |  March 04 2014, 11:01PM

    I find it shocking that Cornwall Council spent £22,000 to commission property consultants GVA to see what impact Coyte Farm would have on the town centre of St Austell. What a sheer waste of public money from a council who continually says we have to cut public services such as 12 million from the social care budget, toilets , library's and so many other voluntary and public services .Cornwall Council you are not fit for purpose and feel utter despair that you pull the purse strings with no thought or regard for the people of Cornwall who pay their taxes for a "shambolic" Council who lack common sense and sheer incompetence of how to run the finance department. May be you should have some lessons from Martin Lewis !! Shirley Sweeney

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  • break  |  March 04 2014, 5:36PM

    Shouldn't the developers pay for the study,wether they get permission or not? This is yet another reason for the Council to approve as many developments as they can, regardless of where ever its built. So Cornwall Council cannot fairly approve developments, without prejudice.

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  • josdave  |  March 04 2014, 4:32PM

    There's a surprise Cornwall Council wasting money.

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