It may well be, as Salford Council claims, a "stunning public realm" that "will link the medieval cores of Salford and Manchester", but costs to the public purse seem to be rocketing by the week, as the `iconically' titled Greengate Public Realm nears completion.
The space, where Victoria Bus Station used to be across the Salford side of the river from Manchester Cathedral, consists of a new footbridge, two stainless steel beacon/sculptures (it was supposed to be three but one's gone missing) by artist Mel Chantrey, 36 coloured fountains and lots of little curved stone walls to sit on.
The site, until recently, was surrounded by boards visualising the delights of the "£10.2million scheme to reconnect Salford and Manchester at their heart". But a Salford Council report for Mayor Ian Stewart this week states that "a total of £13.3m funding has been secured".
Initially the project, including buying the site (£3million) and its preparation, was to be publicly funded by North West Development Agency (NWDA), Europe (ERDF) and the Homes and Communities Agency, with little direct cost to Salford Council. But as the "stunning public realm" has progressed financial gaps have been filled by the Council, we reckon, to the tune of around £1.5million, and possibly way more than that.
This week, Mayor Ian Stewart approved a further £254,437 to cover "indirect impacts resulting from inefficient working practices and delay to the programme". This follows an additional £205,000, approved by the Council last January to "accelerate" work, and £806,306 to cover the demise of the NWDA.
The Council also initially chipped in £107,000 of Section 106 money to reinstate an `architectural lighting scheme', `river wall design' and `an alternative formwork solution for the steps' which were dropped from the original design to save costs, as it was felt that they would compromise "the quality and visual impact of the public realm".
Behind the scenes, Salford Council has also been funding the Greengate Management Company, at an annual cost of £326,373. TheGreengate Management Company was set up in December 2010 as an `arms length' company, with the Council controlling 51%, and the private sector having a 49% stake. The idea was for the Council to fund the `contribution' for five years from Council Tax and then private developers in the area would contribute. Already Salford Council has paid out £652,746 for the management company, which would deliver "a high quality management and maintenance service for the new public realm"…
…The `high quality management' doesn't seem to have happened so far, with "inefficient working practices and delay to the programme" that have seen the costs for the fountains et al escalate year on year. To the point where it's almost impossible to know exactly how much the whole project is costing, or exactly how much Salford Council is forking out.
The report to the Mayor this week begins with a "funding total of £13.3m" but the `Forecast Total Project Cost' is £11,326,510. Even so, that's an increase of well over £1million on the £10.2million cost flagged up on hoardings which surrounded the site during its construction.
Salford Council has argued that the investment in the Greengate Public Realm is sound in that it "could see up to £490M of private sector investment in the area over the next 10-15 years". But, so far there is no evidence of this, apart from the `Ugly Sisters' buildings due to be constructed by ASK developments on the site of the old Exchange Station next to the fountains.
Unfortunately this development has only been ratified because Salford Council has agreed to underwrite the scheme with £15million of public money (see here for further details).
Salford Council is still looking to slash almost £2million from its public services by the end of this financial year, including £304,000 from Welfare Rights and over £1.5million from the Community Care programme…
* Mel Chantrey, the artist who designed the stainless steel beacony type sculptures at the space, is currently being promoted as part of the Urban Market Company. Its website states that Mel believes that our public spaces "take little account of the physical and emotional effect they have on the visitor". When `visitors' see the final bill the Greengate space may well have a major "emotional effect" on them…