HELENSBURGH’S community council wants “concrete assurances” that Argyll and Bute officials have learned from criticism by the local government watchdog before work starts on building the town’s new waterfront leisure centre.

The demand comes after the Burgh councillor who is leading the project said the main contract for the work is expected to be awarded later this month.

Councillor Gary Mulvaney said the project, which has a budget of almost £20 million, “continues to progress as expected” – and will be considered by Argyll and Bute’s temporary ‘business continuity committee’ before the end of June.

But Dr Peter Brown, the vice-convener of Helensburgh Community Council (HCC), pointed to a new ‘best value assurance’ report on Argyll and Bute, published by Audit Scotland last month, which called on the authority to strengthen the processes for reviewing business cases for major capital projects, and warned it was “essential to have robust governance arrangements in place” for such schemes.

The report was published after a string of delays to, and repeated pledges of additional cash for, the regeneration of Rothesay Pavilion on Bute – one of the few remaining elements of the local authority’s CHORD project, first unveiled in 2008, that is still not complete.

READ MORE: Main contract for Helensburgh's near-£20m waterfront project 'set to be awarded this month'

According to Dr Brown, HCC has been told by the project manager for the Helensburgh waterfront plans that Helensburgh and Lomond councillors will be asked to approve a contractor, and a business case for the project, on June 24.

If that approval is given, the council’s temporary business continuity committee (BCC) will be presented with the final decision to approve the development the next day – and if the BCC gives the green light, it’s expected that the contract will be formally awarded on July 13.

Dr Brown said: “Last month’s Audit Scotland ‘best value’ report stated that, with respect to the Rothesay Pavilion tendering process, ‘the council’s process for reviewing business cases is not as strong as it could be’.

“It made explicit recommendations that the council ensure ‘when undertaking any capital regeneration project, it is essential to have robust governance arrangements in place’.

“We look for concrete assurances that Argyll and Bute Council have taken these recent and directly relevant lessons on board.”

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Planning permission for the project was granted in January 2019 by the council’s planning, protective services and licensing committee – but only after the committee deferred a decision on two occasions to seek further information.

Dr Brown said: “The community council welcomes the news that Argyll and Bute Council have reached this significant milestone in the project, and the community that has patiently waited for a replacement swimming pool will be eager to know that building work may commence soon.

“We look forward to seeing the business case that the council have created, but we are concerned that this will only be made public just before the council’s meetings this month, almost a year and a half after it was due to be approved.

“Also, only nine councillors out of the full council of 36 that would normally make a decision of this magnitude will be asked to pass judgement on the project at the business continuity committee.”

READ MORE: Community council in watchdog threat over Helensburgh waterfront spending plans

It's not yet clear how much of an impact the Covid-19 pandemic will have on the budget or timescale for the waterfront project.

A council spokesperson said: “Our focus is on delivering a high quality facility that will benefit residents and visitors to Helenburgh.

"The waterfront development represents significant council investment in the town. This next stage in the project will be considered by both local councillors at the area committee, and by the wider council at the business continuity committee (BCC).

"The council set up the BCC to ensure that key council business could continue while we deal with the additional demands of helping our communities during the Covid-19 pandemic.

"Agreement from the BCC would allow this key project for Helensburgh to take another step towards completion."

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