THE leaders of West Berkshire Council have refused to apologise for a blunder which has cost the taxpayer almost £1 million.

There were calls for senior Tory councillors to apologise for the mismanagement of the project to redevelop London Road Industrial Estate, in Newbury, during a meeting on Thursday, October 15.

The redevelopment suffered a major setback in 2018, when the Court of Appeal ruled the council had breached EU law by failing to follow the correct procurement process when it appointed St Modwen Plc as the developer.

The council spent over £945,000 on the botched redevelopment project and legal fees.

READ MORE: Will businesses be forced out of London Road Industrial Estate?

All of the decisions which were made before the council ended up in court have been analysed and scrutinised by a task group made up of five councillors.

They have criticised the council for taking “a piecemeal approach”, failing to use “proper project management methodology”, not keeping adequate records and failing to draw up a detailed business case for the project.

But they have also said there is no evidence to suggest the Conservative-run council intended to act unlawfully and it “acted reasonably having taken expert advice” from advisers.

At Thursday’s meeting, Cllr Lee Dillon, who was on the task group, asked why the council’s executive has not apologised for “the poor project management” and admitted that they “did get it wrong”.

“There clearly were failings and I think the public deserve an apology for that,” said the Liberal Democrat councillor.

Jeff Brooks (Liberal Democrat) said: “It’s interesting that there’s no apology for £946,000 of taxpayers’ money that was spent as a result of this project going wrong.”

'Public money has gone to waste'

Cllr Owen Jeffery (Liberal Democrat) said: “I find it incredible that a project of this magnitude and importance never, as far as I understand, got a proper project management style.”

He added: “The result is public money has gone to waste.

“That could conceivably be millions of pounds of public money, because there were opportunities for developers to do some of the work that we as taxpayers have locally paid for.”

But Cllr Ross Mackinnon, executive member for economic development, said: “I don’t think an apology is appropriate.

“The council will always seek to improve methodology whenever we can and our response to these recommendations shows that.”

READ MORE: Plans to transform London Road Industrial Estate back on track

The Tory councillor said the council’s project management methodologies and processes “have improved a great deal” since 2018.

He also said most of the 15 recommendations made by the task group “require no action because the council has developed as an organisation since these key decisions were taken.”

The redevelopment of London Road Industrial Estate is now back on track after the council hired consultants from Avison Young to prepare a draft development brief.

The brief says up to 544 homes, 6,023sqm of office space and 6,690sqm of space for other businesses could be built on the site as part of one comprehensive development.

While a phased development could provide up to 280 homes, 3,473sqm of office space and 5,400sqm of space for other businesses.

According to the brief, the council is aiming to transform London Road Industrial Estate into a “vibrant, successful and diverse neighbourhood where people will want to live, work and visit” by 2030.

People can now have their say on the development brief by taking part in a public consultation.