The Lancashire Evening Post, Saturday, 28th June 2008
Auditors to examine park failings
External auditors will be called in to examine the expensive failings which blighted the revamp of two Preston parks.

During a stormy Town Hall debate, the leader of Preston Council suggested a review be carried out into how improvements to Avenham and Miller parks spiralled 500,000 over budget, from 4.5m to 5m.

Councillor Ken Hudson said the matter would also come under the microscope of the council's own internal scrutiny process.

Only after all of this will the council consider releasing the 515,000 to make up the deficit, members said.

It also emerged at Thursday's meeting that phase two of the project could take two more years to complete.

The meeting saw a series of heated discussions between councillors, with Labour blaming the ruling Tory cabinet, while the Conservatives said the problems began under the watch of Labour in 2002.

Meanwhile, both groups pointed to failings by officers, including some who now work elsewhere.

Peter Rankin
Labour Councillor Peter Rankin said: "There's been clear dereliction of duty."

Tory Councillor Hudson said: "There are big questions that need answering. We will nail this one."

Earlier in the meeting, Councillor Hudson rejected calls from a team of three Fulwood residents for a public enquiry.

Retired architect Colin Barnes, his wife Christine and neighbour Michael Farrington said taxpayers should be given the chance to find out how the overspend happened.

Mrs Barnes, who lives with her husband in Victoria Road, asked for the matter to be made the subject of a public inquiry "to clarify a large number of issues and establish that there has been no maladministration."

She said: "A catalogue of management failures appears to have allowed the massive overspend to occur and it could well have been prevented by proper monitoring procedures being in place from the outset."

But Councillor Hudson said: "There's no evidence that the actual costs incurred were inflated or unreasonable.

"It appears that some, but not all, of the errors occurred in the early planning."

Councillor Anthony Gornall admitted that the overspend was only discovered when the council had a "move round of the departments."

He said: "I can assure you that the costings for phase two will be gone over with a fine toothcomb."

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© The Lancashire Evening Post, June 2008