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Sunday, 21 December 2014

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Row over delays to £1m Carlisle arts centre

A row has broken out over the time being taken to convert Carlisle’s Old Fire Station into an arts centre.

Carlisle old fire station photo
The former Rickergate fire station

City council executives have come under fire after opposition Conservative councillors realised the £1m scheme’s original timetable had slipped by five months.

Speaking to members of the authority’s Community Overview and Scrutiny Panel yesterday, council chief executive Jason Gooding said the setback was mainly due to circumstances outside of his control.

The matter was called in for further investigation by three councillors – Gareth Ellis, Judy Prest and Patricia Vasey – after the delay was spotted within a council report.

Mr Ellis said that it was originally intended to open the centre, which will be in the former fire station in Warwick Street, Rickergate, by October this year.

He said that they had not been kept up to date over progress and added: “As far as the councillors were concerned we were expecting the arts centre to be open in October this year.

“[It might be] outside the control of this authority but we’ve not received the information. It was only by going through background reports it was found to be out of time.”

He asked if there still would be an arts centre and when it would be officially opened.

Mrs Prest asked whether budgets would be affected because of the delay.

Mr Gooding said the “indicative timetable” was first published last July, but it was not the final project plan, and there were several factors which had contributed to the delay.

He added that initially only one firm submitted a bid – so it was put out to tender again because it was not considered to be a “competitive field”.

The contract was finally awarded last December and Mr Gooding said this had created a two-and-a-half month delay – which was extended by the Christmas period.

He said: “By this time we were looking at getting planning permission for the project but sadly the Ministry of Justice had some objections.”

Mr Gooding said the concerns were over noise and there had been lengthy discussions to sort the matter out and planning permission was finally granted last month.

He said: “There is a five-month delay in the indicative timetable. Initially we’d hoped to have it open by October 31, 2014, but now we are anticipating March 30, 2015

Mr Gooding admitted they had failed to keep councillors fully informed over the progress of the project.

Colin Glover, the leader of the city council, said that the Conservative group had never supported the arts centre and added: “You’ve called in on something that you didn’t want to do in the first place.

“Are you on board or is this an attempt to slow things down? The decision has been made – we want to make this work for the city.”

Mr Ellis replied: “The council has made the decision and it’s my responsibility to make sure the decisions of the council are carried out by the officers and the executive.”

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