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Canterbury City Council's multi-storey car park tender plan criticised

The city council has been accused of not seeking the best value for taxpayers after rejecting an open tender process for the controversial £9.1 million multi-storey car park.

The authority is set to sign a contract with Hertfordshire-based Willmott Dixon for the project in Station Road West, but has not sought quotes from any other firms.

It has instead followed a 'scape framework' process, allowing it to avoid the typical 'EU procurement' method in which many different companies would have quoted for the development.

The proposed multi-story car park in Station Road West
The proposed multi-story car park in Station Road West

The council says the decision will save money and avoid delays, but has been accused of fast-tracking the deal, which has been scrutinised by an independent review.

The move has come in for criticism, not least because Willmott Dixon’s original estimate for the car park build - at £5m - later increased to £7.1m.

It will also receive £440,000 for pre-construction works, with additional costs to other parties bringing the council’s total bill to £9.1m.

Jon Winder, from Canterbury, who has previously been tasked with approaching contractors for work in London greenspaces, hit out at the city council’s methods.

“They’ve used a scape framework agreement, which is acceptable, but it only has one supplier on it,” he said.

“To me, it just seems a bit rubbish as they’ve gone to one builder without getting a range of quotes, so they don’t know whether they are being ripped off or not.

“If you were getting work done to your home, you wouldn’t do it this way - you’d ask a few builders to quote to get the best price.

The council's Station Road West car park where the multi-storey could be built
The council's Station Road West car park where the multi-storey could be built

“Given current financial difficulties you might think the city council would need to get the lowest price.

"This could have been significantly cheaper - they simply haven’t used their common sense.

“Had the job been for something cheap like toilet rolls then you wouldn’t expect them to go asking around for quotes.

"But for such an expensive and controversial project it is nonsensical not to.”

The reason behind not putting the contract out for open tender was explained in a council notice, which said it was a delegated decision that had been made by officers on the advice of independent experts.

It said: “An independent review of Willmott Dixon’s stage four costs has been carried out by Betteridge & Milsom (cost consultants).

"The review also considered and compared the costs and risks involved in undertaking an alternative tender process.

Alan Baldock has criticised the lack of a tender process
Alan Baldock has criticised the lack of a tender process

“The review has concluded that appointing Willmott Dixon through the scape framework is the most economically advantageous option and this would also avoid a number of significant risks that would result from undertaking an alternative tender.”

By opting to go down the scape framework agreement route, the reports said the council avoided a “minimum six-month delay required to undertake an alternative EU compliant tender process”.

Labour leader Cllr Alan Baldock argues a tender process should have been undertaken.

“You have to argue whether not seeking the best value is the right process to follow,” he said.

“I certainly would have preferred an open tender to give other builders and architects an opportunity to come up with more designs.

"The council is certainly not as open with decision making as it makes out.

"By avoiding a tender process, it seems they just wanted a fast turnaround.”

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