There were serious failures in Wolverhampton City Council’s handling of a town centre regeneration scheme.
The Ombudsman said the Council failed to adequately project manage the purchase of the properties at the centre of the complaint.
“It is unacceptable that the Council should embark on a process of negotiation with the complainant for purchase of properties for over four years, when it was never in a position to complete a purchase even if a price had been agreed at the outset.”
A businesswoman complained about the Council’s handling of a regeneration scheme that includes a town centre high street where she and her partner own three properties (one a trading business and two derelict buildings). The buildings were due to be demolished to make way for a pedestrian link between the town centre and an urban village, forming part of the scheme. She had been communicating with the Council since 2004 concerning the future of these buildings, and said the Council’s mishandling caused her uncertainty over the future and that she has incurred unnecessary costs.
The Ombudsman found failures in the Council’s project management of the scheme:
- there was no timetable to ensure it moved to compulsory purchase of the affected properties
- there was no legal agreement to ensure funding was ring-fenced for the purchases
- there was no adequate accounting system in place when spending on other aspects of the scheme overran, and
- there was insufficient funding available to purchase the properties in any event.
The Ombudsman also criticised the Council for “a remarkable lack of candour” in its communications with the complainant. It unfairly sought to blame all delays in this case on her own actions and those of the local regeneration agency.
The Ombudsman found these failings caused the complainant unnecessary uncertainty. The Council accepted these findings and agreed to:
- apologise to the complainant for the injustice caused by the failings highlighted in this report
- pay her £1,000 compensation for uncertainty and distress (in addition to that already paid, which included professional costs), and
- continue to liaise with the Ombudsman’s office so that, within three months of the issue of this report, it was clear what measures had been put in place to:
- oversee the ongoing project management of the urban village link (clarifying the ongoing role of both officers and members in this process)
- secure funding for the purchases of the urban village link
- confirm timescales for voluntary purchase and – if necessary – compulsory purchase of the properties forming the urban village link, and
- keep the complainant informed about the progress of the proposed regeneration.
Remedy agreed prior to publication: 16 May 2012