Summary: IWC’s own figures are that a malfunctioning lift at the Ventnor Botanic Garden is costing them (and us as tax payers) a lost income of £7,000+ a week in the Summer. The council has allowed this to go on unfixed for ten years. Why haven’t they acted before now?
It was with some surprise that we read on Monday about a delegated decision due to be made at the Isle of Wight council (IWC) by Cllr George Brown about the IWC possibly spending £220,000 on a replacement lift at the Ventnor Botanic Garden (VBG).
The surprise wasn’t at the fact that the incline lift needs to be replaced – it’s well-known locally that the incline lift has been unreliable for years. (We’re told that over the last three years, 16 people have had to be rescued from the lift by the Fire Service).
The surprise came when digging through the details in the council’s paperwork – in it the IWC admit that they have been aware of the problems with the lift since its installation ten years ago and are blaming the commercial failure of the Botanic Garden largely on the lift.
It begs the question – If the council has known about this problem for ten years – why haven’t they acted on it before?
Knowledge of problems for years
The first item to spring out at us from the delegated decision report was
Item 7 “The fact that the facilities have not achieved their full commercial potential is largely due to the unreliable inclined lift, which was installed to the “architects’ specification at the time of construction.” This lift was unfortunately installed out-of-square a decade ago, and has therefore never functioned properly and has a reputation locally for unreliability.”
Was the IWC negligent?
The IWC say that the lack of commercial success of the Garden is due to the unreliability of the lift.
Given that the IWC have known about the problem with the lift for ten years, and that it has an impact on visitor numbers, haven’t the IWC been negligent in protecting the commercial success of the Garden?
Why wasn’t the lift replaced?
The IWC claim that the lift was installed ‘out-of-square’ to the architects’ specification at the time of construction. They’ve known about the problems for ten years.
If the council knew about the problems, why wasn’t the lift previously replaced/repaired?
New lift so VBG can be sold?
The answer may be that prior to spending review, the council has not been seeking partnership with an outside organisation for VBG.
(VB broke the ‘Will VBG be sold off?‘ story back in mid-August)
The report goes on to state,
Item 15 “To enable the council to be able to move towards these, or other, forms of partnership working and alternative delivery methods, the fabric of the Visitor Centre must have been maintained to an appropriate level. “Appropriate” in this context not only means that the site may be considered a viable asset, but also a level which demonstrates the council’s commitment to investing in a key asset in its ownership.
So if the problem was known about but nothing done for ten years, doesn’t that mean the IWC haven’t been demonstrating their “commitment to investing in a key asset in its ownership” for a decade?
Income loss of £7k per week
The report claims that the problems with the lift have had an adverse impact on the financial success of the Garden.
It states, “the facilities have not achieved their full commercial potential is largely due to the unreliable inclined lift.”
It goes on to say that coach drivers are discouraged from bringing parties of visitors to the Garden because it is widely known that the lift is out of order, adding that for “each coach which turns around without [visitors] disembarking loses the Garden over £200 in potential expenditure, which equates to approximately £7,000 of lost income per week in Summer, plus additional secondary retail spend on the site.”
Not on the Forward Plan
As this is such a large amount of expenditure, it’s surprising that the item was not on the council’s Forward Plan, as would be normal in these circumstances.
When we questioned the council about it, they told us it was because “an urgent decision that needed to be made.” This is made all of the more confusing as the IWC report says that it had been known about the problem for a decade.
The Report says that the Chairman of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee had been consulted and was “content that this matter proceeds to a decision.” Adding that “he hopes that the approval of investment, if it occurs, can be taken as being indicative of a commitment by the Isle of Wight Council to continued involvement in the running of the Botanic Garden as a valuable community asset remaining in public ownership.”
Many questions are raised by this
- Why does an urgent decision “needed to be made” on this lift when it’s been known about for ten years?
- At a time where the council is cutting back on expenditure from all departments, how does it justify spending £220,000 on a new lift?
- Why hasn’t the council maintained “the fabric of the Visitor Centre” at “an appropriate level” for ten years?
- Who at the council will take responsibility for this information being known about for ten years but not acted on?
- Which senior director at the council will take responsibility for the loss of apparently hundred of thousands of pounds over this period?
- What action was taken against the contractor or architect when it was originally discovered that the list had been fitted incorrectly?
UPDATE: We’ve put the above questions to Cllr George Brown and separately to IWC Chief Exec, Steve Beynon. We await their replies.
Read the delegated decision report in full (PDF)