Posted: Fri 22nd Jul 2022

Flintshire: Rising cost of major school redevelopment to be challenged

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Friday, Jul 22nd, 2022

The rising cost of redeveloping a secondary school in Flintshire is set to be challenged by opposition councillors.

Flintshire Council wants to build a combined primary and secondary school campus for about 1,300 pupils at the Argoed High School site in Mynydd Isa, near Mold.

An estimated cost of £31m was previously attached to the project, which would see existing buildings demolished to allow Ysgol Mynydd Isa primary school to relocate to the Argoed site.

However, concerns have been raised after a recent report showed the proposed facility is facing a potential increase in costs due to problems within the construction industry.

The Mynydd Isa Campus development is due to be funded through the Welsh Government’s Mutual Investment Model (MIM), which sees private firms contracted to build and maintain public assets.

Created as an alternative to controversial private finance initiative (PFI) deals, it will require the council to pay an annual charge similar to a rent payment for a period of 25 years.

Due to the the soaring price of building materials and supply chain issues, that sum has risen by around £336,000 per year, meaning the local authority could have to pay nearly £1.2m towards the scheme annually.

Although the council is seeking to have the charge capped at £1m, members of the 25-strong independent opposition group have “called-in” the Labour cabinet’s decision to progress with the funding arrangements.

A call-in notice signed by group leader Bernie Attridge and four of his colleagues states: “As the effect upon the revenue budget is significant now and into the future, there needs to be a full and precise account of the benefit, considering education, financial and social implications towards understanding value for money.

“Scrutiny has had little opportunity to consider the use of MIM as the method for funding the project and cabinet did not offer any assurance or comment considering the significant increase in cost.”

Officials have repeatedly dismissed comparisons between MIM and PFIs, which were abolished by the UK Government in 2018 for failing to deliver value for money.

A previous report estimated the council would need to pay a service charge of £681,000 for the 2026-27 financial year, but that figure has now risen.

The council’s chief education officer said earlier this month it was hoped the final annual service charge for the Mynydd Isa project would be lower than anticipated.

Claire Homard also warned the authority would be charged a fee of £2.7m if it decides not to pursue the scheme.

She said: “The full business case to WG seeks agreement from WG to cap the council’s annual service charge contribution to a maximum value of £1m per annum.

“However, it is anticipated that the project figure will be lower than the maximum capped figure as the project moves towards financial close anticipated in July/August 2022.

“Should the project figure be confirmed as lower, this would reduce the annual service charge figure accordingly to the benefit of both WG and the council.”

A planning application to host both schools under the same roof with some shared facilities was approved in January this year.

Construction of the new buildings is expected to start in August, with the campus due to open in September 2024.

A meeting will be held next Friday (July 29, 2022) to scrutinise the cabinet’s decision to move forward with the financial agreements and decide whether to refer it back.

Liam Randall – Local Democracy Reporter (more here).

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