Wells Street audit under wraps

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Bespoke planters: Wells Street upgrade subject of two audits amid budget escalation. Picture: Gary Sissons

AN audit of the troubled revamp of Wells Street will not be made available to ratepayers after councillors voted behind closed doors after the 2 June public council meeting to keep its contents “confidential indefinitely”.

The forensic audit by accountancy firm HLB Mann Judd is the second audit of the Wells Street refurbishment project.

A 5-3 majority of councillors in October last year approved an allocation of $25,000 to dig deeper into the project, originally budgeted at $3.5 million, running about $1.7 million over budget (“Second audit for Wells Street spending”, The Times 9/10/17).

An initial audit, costing ratepayers $29,000, was done by Pitcher Partners and analysed the Wells Street works, the construction of a new war memorial at Beauty Park, the refurbishment of the building partly leased by the Frankston Yacht Club, the building of the Frankston Football Club Function Centre and a clubhouse extension for the Frankston Bombers at Baxter Reserve.

The Wells Street project became mired in controversy after a budget of $3.4 million escalated to about $5.4 million including custom-made street furniture, planters and street lighting.

Councillors last week voted to only publicly release the recommendations from the audit and not the full report.

The audit ended up costing ratepayers $15,000.

Council subsequently released a summary of “recommended actions” when asked by The Times that do not name anyone involved in the project.

The Times understands several sections of the audit are critical about the decision to remove a lead consultant from the project, a lack of minutes taking when a working party including councillors and council officers met and no documentation being available about decisions made during the Wells Street revamp taking shape.

The Times also understands some council staff interviewed by the auditor said they felt “disrespected” and “intimidated” during meetings and on-site inspections of the progress of Wells Street works.

Councillors retrospectively approved budget increases for the project.

Pavers that were originally slated to be used for Wells Street were redirected to the Frankston War Memorial construction in Beauty Park and other pavers were ordered for Wells Street.

The mayor Cr Colin Hampton, who led the push to commission the second Wells Street audit late last year, said it was not appropriate to release the full report “to protect the privacy of people” who were interviewed by HLB Mann Judd.

“This audit was more of a people-focused one,” Cr Hampton said last week.

When questioned about several pavers on Wells Street now cracked and, in some places, becoming partly raised, council CEO Dennis Hovenden said the paving is “fairly even” and it is a “watch and act situation” to monitor whether paving near pits and underground cabling subsides.

Mr Hovenden said council is aware of its health and safety obligations around “trip hazards” and said “remedial work” will be done on Wells Street if necessary.

Shifting: Wells Street paving raised in sections of footpath.

First published in the Frankston Times – 16 July 2018

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