By Bruce Sinclair
A saving of more than £6m is to be made by cutting part of Haverfordwest’s levelling-up project, to meet budget pressures of over £5m.
The March meeting of Pembrokeshire County Council’s Cabinet heard there was an overall budget pressure of £5.167m on the Heart of Pembrokeshire Levelling up project, with options including filling this gap or cutting back on the scope of the project.
The successful Levelling Up Fund application announced in late 2021 included adding to ongoing improvements at Haverfordwest Castle to create an outdoor performance area, renovation of the jail, and perimeter walks with a direct link to the town centre via Bridge Street, and on to the Western Quayside and Riverside via a ‘signature bridge’.
It had a total project cost of £19,666,962 made up of a Levelling Up Fund grant £17,700,266 and PCC funding of £1,966,696.
Funding pressures outlined late last year estimated a core shortfall of £3.442m in the project, together with £300,000 costs for a dangerous structure issue.
These costs took the council’s financial commitment to £5,708,696.
Cabinet members were recommended to remove part of the scheme – the Bridge Street link and walkways – replacing it with an alternative link via Castle Square and Castle back, and to reshape part of the conservation of the castle walls part of the project, in light of the changes.
The report said savings generated from this amendment would bring the project back on budget and provide a buffer for further pressures.
“It saves £6,682,479 against current projected scheme costs (including overspend). It significantly reduces overall project risk as the link and walkways carry the highest risks to the scheme due to complexity, ecology, archaeology, access, land ownership and timescales.
“It saves more than is currently required which provides a financial buffer for any further budget pressures that may arise.”
Other options included removing the ‘signature bridge’, which would still leave a shortfall of £474,390, or works at the jail, at a saving of £6,386,294, the report added.
“However, the gaol visitor experience is the centrepiece of the Heart of Pembrokeshire scheme, without which approximately 80 per cent of the anticipated benefits, outputs and outcomes will not be achieved.
“Furthermore, without the gaol, the outdoor event space is also not viable because it relies on the gaol for event storage, toilets, café/bar, respite against inclement weather, and changing facilities for the artists.
“It is considered unlikely that the funder would agree to such a change, and this would further delay the project putting increased pressure on completing the scheme by March 2025.”
Cabinet members unanimously backed the recommended amendment to the scheme.
Cabinet Member for Place, the Region and Climate Change Councillor Paul Miller, who moved the recommendation be adopted, said: “Am I delighted we’re losing the direct link up to the castle?
“No, I’m not. We could’ve added another £5m to the scheme, but would that have been the answer?
“I think this is just being pragmatic, and therefore I’m just really supportive.”