A council has been forced to admit the secret cost of eyesore hoardings it's been renting for 13 years.
Medway previously refused to tell KentOnline what it has paid for the fencing in Pier Road, Gillingham, saying the information was "commercially sensitive".
But the authority was pressed into revealing it spent around £50,000 at last week's full council meeting.
This came after Labour councillor Andy Stamp asked an official question about the matter.
It came to light last month that Medway had been renting the "unsightly" blue hoardings along a crumbling wall since residents began noticing cracks in 2009.
Cllr Gary Hackwell (Con), portfolio holder for business management, revealed the council had spent £75 per week, which amounts to roughly £50,700.
The Tory, who spoke on behalf of portfolio holder for front line services, Cllr Phil Filmer, said the wooden panels were placed as a safety measure when the wall was identified as a “serious health and safety risk”.
He said the safety benefits “far outweigh” the cost in taxpayer money over the past 13 years.
He continued: “This structure was not originally identified as a council asset, nevertheless we are bound under the duty of care to safeguard our residents, even though there was uncertainty around who the landowner was.
“We appreciate the hoardings may have been perceived as unsightly, however, the installation of the hoardings was necessary as explained above, to be the safest course of action at that time to safeguard against injury.”
He added the time taken to carry out the repair of the wall has been due to the difficulties identifying the wall’s land ownership, as it is backed onto by a row of private lock-up garages on Leslie Road.
As the owner of the land itself, and as the highway authority responsible for any wall supporting a public highway, Medway ultimately is tasked with the repairs.
However, the council needs to reach an agreement with the company which owns the garages.
“We have only very recently received permission from the landowner above the wall to progress with the works, which we are hoping will commence in quarter one of 2023,” Cllr Hackwell said.
Cllr Stamp, whose ward covers the area the wall is in, said at the meeting: "It has been structurally unsound for well over a decade and is in desperate need of repair.
"While funding has been secured so permanent repairs can finally be carried out next year, the 'temporary' blue hoardings have been in place since 2009.
"Residents and ward councillors have long complained the hoardings are not only an eyesore, but they also restrict visibility and cause road safety issues for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians using this busy dual carriageway.
"To my dismay, it recently came to light the council do not actually own the temporary blue hoardings (including the structural steel propping behind) and taxpayers have been paying to hire them for the past 13 years."
He told KentOnline before the meeting: "It’s very worrying that we’ve been renting the hoardings all these years. Hopefully they will be a thing of the past soon."
In response to the £50,000 revelation, Cllr Stamp said: "I feared it might be quite a significant cost but that's probably slightly worse than I thought it would be.
"It's a significant amount of money that could have gone towards repairing the walls, or repairing Medway's roads. It's a huge waste of money and poor management. It's really, really frustrating."
He said of the reasoning given by the council, that the safety benefits outweigh the cost to taxpayers: "It doesn't wash with me, and it won't wash with the public."
He continued: "It's a really poor excuse. The hoardings were required when they first identified the safety defects in the wall, but that was in 2009. It's simply not good enough."
Cllr Stamp also pointed out the safety risks posed by the hoardings by restricting visibility for cars turning out of Camden Road onto the dual carriageway.
The council had previously been contacted in 2016 after a cyclist was knocked down by a car turning out of the adjacent street.
He added: "It should've been sorted out long ago. It shows a lack of financial awareness."
A council spokesman told KentOnline its highways team is not currently renting hoardings in any other areas.
They confirmed the repair works are currently going through the planning process and if approved, are expected to go ahead in the spring.
They added: "Works were delayed due to difficulties in defining land ownership for this wall. The safety of local residents has remained our priority. The hoarding is in place to protect residents."
The spokesman did not answer our question on how council bosses think taxpayers will view their handling of the situation.
The hoardings, which were only intended as a temporary measure are visible from the Premier Inn, which is opposite and opened in 2015 – forecast to bring more than £50 million to Medway's economy.
Since their construction 13 years ago, the hoardings have been damaged by weathering and graffiti, with overgrown vegetation behind, being branded an "eyesore" by residents.
There were initially plans to fix the wall this summer but these were scuppered by trouble getting access to the site.
Cllr Stamp said the Labour councillors are preparing to confirm their next steps, as the answer "begs the questions of how many other examples there are" of equipment on loan by the council.
He continued: "The figures speak for themselves. We're hopeful that permanent repairs will be carried out next year in the spring or summer, and the hoardings will finally be removed.
"But in the meantime, that £50,700 cost will continue to go up. Even if the wall is repaired by June, that's another couple of thousand pounds. It's a worry."