Cheshire West and Chester Council has explained high value spending including a £400,000 contract with consultants tasked with managing the move to a brand new market hall as part of the £300m Northgate Development.
The council responded after health campaigner and avid tweeter Kate Northcott Spall stirred up an online debate by posting details of council spending accessed from open data.
Mrs Northcott Spall, who lives in Chester, wrote: “Local council Qtr 4 spend £76k on Art £400k for a Market Consultant £20k business survey. Great to have transparency.”
CWaC has recently come in for criticism over its alleged failure to look after existing stallholders in the wake of the relocation of bus services away from the market hall to Gorse Stacks.
However, it did lay on a free Shopper Hopper bus linking the old and new sites, there are plans for enhanced signage and negotiations are believed to be underway to strike a financial deal with traders for loss of business.
Cllr David Armstrong, cabinet member for legal and finance, justified hiring WMC Retail Partners Plc as market consultants in a four-year contract worth £400,000 to help establish a new market as part of the Northgate Development as well as managing the move.
He said: “We are committed to ensuring our borough is well-connected, accessible and a great place to do business. We are also committed to ensuring we have a first-class, inclusive leisure, heritage and culture offer to make our borough a great place to live, study and visit.
“We are making excellent progress on delivering the Chester Northgate scheme, which will have a new market at the heart of it. To make it a success, we must have expertise from specialist market consultants who have experience of working on other successful market projects.
“The market advisor fee is around 0.15% of the overall development costs for the scheme and will ensure that a new viable and vibrant market is delivered for the people of Chester and a new dynamic marketplace is open to existing and new traders.”
The £20,000 referenced in Mrs Northcott Spall's tweet was CWaC’s contribution towards a telephone survey of 1,500 businesses in a joint project with Cheshire East and the Local Enterprise Partnership worth a total £50,000. And the £76,000 cited includes bollards in Frodsham Street and the purchase of artwork by the Grosvenor Museum.
Cllr Armstrong added: “As part of our investment in Chester we recently completed works on Frodsham Street which links the new bus interchange with the city centre. To make this area attractive to shoppers and visitors we have installed a series of unique bollards by artist Katayoun Dowlatshahii which are inspired by Chester’s architecture.
“To improve our cultural offer we purchased a portrait of Sybil, Countess of Rocksavage, later Marchioness of Cholmondeley, which was painted by Charles Sims in 1922. The painting was purchased with support from the ACE/V&A Purchase Grant Fund, Philip Mould, Art Fund, and the Grosvenor Museum Society and securing it for our residents and visitors to the borough is something to celebrate.
“Providing value for money for taxpayers is embedded within our organisational values and is the guiding principle of all of our spending. To achieve our priorities set out in the Council Plan we must invest in the borough, invest in services and deliver for residents and that is what we are doing.”