With all the building work complete at the Festival Hall, the Parish Council confirmed last month that the total costs of the project exceeded the budget by hundreds of thousands of pounds.
At the Parish Council meeting on Monday 13th November, Councillor Geoff Hall provided a summary of the Medical Centre project, which exceeded the budget by £370,000, which represented 18%.
At this month's meeting he delivered the second part of his report which covered the costs for refurbishing the Festival Hall which also exceeded the budget significantly.
Councillor Geoff Hall confirmed that the final costs for the work at the Festival Hall over the period from May 2015 to October 2017 were £825,098, compared with a projected cost of £540,000, a difference of £285,098 or 53%.
He explained "Once again, we inherited no budget documentation from our predecessors so I am dependent on the Conservative election leaflet for the 'budget' numbers.
"I want to give credit to the previous Parish Council for their original initiative. Without that, it is perfectly possible that the people of Alderley Edge would have lost the Festival Hall to private redevelopment. The previous Parish Council deserve credit for this, but not – as this report clearly demonstrates - for the way in which they executed the project.
"As with the Medical Centre, the new Parish Council did not benefit from any handover documentation to indicate how the previous Conservative Parish Council planned to complete the Festival Hall.
"As of May 2015, when the new Parish Council took over, no specification for the refurbishment had been put in front of Council nor agreed by it. By this time building work was already well advanced. The front of the Hall had been demolished to make way for the Medical Centre and the interior of the Hall itself had been stripped out.
"To be at such an advanced stage in the project and not to have a clearly documented and costed specification is outside my experience – and probably that of any homeowner who has ever commissioned builders to do building work on their own house."
He continued "Before embarking on a build project of this kind it would be standard practice to research the future needs of the community, to consult widely in that community, to take expert advice and to consider alternative options, costing out each of those options in a Business Plan. In the case of the Festival Hall one would have expected that, amongst these different options, would have been an evaluation of the pros and cons of a complete knock-down and rebuild. There is no evidence in our possession that a systematic review of this kind was carried out.
"By May 2015 the Parish Council had owned the Festival Hall for 6 years, having taken it over from Macclesfield Borough Council/Cheshire East in 2009. The first plan for the Hall should have been conducted before that takeover happened."
Cllr Hall explained that because they inherited little or no documentation they were reliant on the Conservative Party leaflet issued just before the May 2015 election for evidence of their plans, which stated that the projected cost for the Festival Hall was £540,000.
He went on to say "What we did inherit was a spreadsheet drawn up by the then Festival Hall Manager and costed by the builders, listing items that would be desirable. The builders had costed these items, but they added up to almost £700,000 not to the £540,000 claimed.
"This total of almost £700,000 excluded the cost of the additional meeting room alongside the Festival Hall entrance foyer (the room now known as the Emerson Suite), which we were told in the Conservative party leaflet would be part of their plan and therefore should have been included in the projected cost of £540,000.
"Adding in this cost the total would increase from just under £700,000 to £800,000 – close to the actual final figure of £825,000.
"Amongst the skills that the present Parish Council has drawn on from the community to complete this project has been expertise in fundraising. It is regrettable that this resource was not accessed at an earlier stage in the project as it is likely that the previous Parish Council could have attracted funding from other sources, notably the National Lottery if it had been approached at an early stage in the project.
"This view is supported by the experience of the local community of Marthall. In 2007-9 the residents of Marthall replaced their old village hall with a state-of-the-art new building funded by the Lottery (and other sources). I have no doubt that Alderley Edge could have done the same, but this would have required a different approach from the start."
The Parish Council increased their borrowings to deal with the under-budgeting of the Medical Centre costs but this was not an option for the Festival Hall as their cash flow forecasts showed that we would not be able to afford any additional repayments.
Therefore they broke the project down into phases, giving priority to the most critical facilities: the entrance foyer, toilets, main Hall and bar. This was done to enable them to start using the Hall as soon as possible, honour existing bookings and bring in revenue.
The Parish Council also downgraded the specification in those areas where they felt that it would not detract from the proper functioning of the Hall, or where it could later be upgraded when funds allowed.
Cllr Hall said "We phased the build, delaying elements of it, notably the Emerson Suite, the first floor at the back of the building and fitting out the kitchen. The phasing meant that we would only embark on that part of the project once we had funds in place to carry out that phase of work."
He added "We created a Business Plan for the Hall, which was approved in Council in 2017 and which will be updated regularly in the light of operating experience.
"We formed a group of volunteers comprising residents who were willing to offer their time, experience and skills to the project. This meant that we were able to access a range of relevant know-how including: quantity surveying, building project management, property law, architectural restoration and fundraising."
The Parish Council has also received additional funding, without which they would not have been able to complete the work. This included a donation in excess of £100,000 from the Peter Jones' Emerson Foundation to cover the cost of building the Emerson Suite, and the trustees of the Alderley Edge Institute Trust increased their original £100,000 donation by almost £40,000, allowing them to buy staging, and install stage lighting and electric blinds in the Hall
Additionally a private donor contributed the £5,000 needed to install acoustic panels ahead of the annual Music Festival in 2016 and Alderley Edge School for Girls donated stage curtains which now hang at the far end of the Hall.
Plus the Festival Hall Advisory Group successfully bid for £47,146 funding from WREN, which – together with funding from the Parish Council, a private donor and the Institute Trust – allowed them to complete the refurbishment of the first floor, creating two new public meeting rooms.
Councillor Hall added "Taken together with the Medical Centre, costs for the Festival Hall/Medical Centre project totaled £3.2m compared with the £2.54m promised by the previous Parish Council. This is a difference, of £660,000, an increase of 26% on the promised cost.
"Resolving these problems has placed a serious strain on the Parish Council and its finances, but careful cash flow management, together with hard work and the generosity of residents of the village, have allowed us to contain the problems and get the Hall project completed.
The challenges are not over. We still need to invest in additional new facilities, notably improvements to the stage, stage lighting and kitchen facilities."
The Parish Council's next target is to raise £3,000 to install ovens and serving shelves in the kitchen to enable them to cater for a wider range of events, including community dances, weddings and parties.