Designed to fail – the truth behind the sham competitions to redevelop Perth City Hall

Designed to fail – the truth behind the sham competitions to redevelop Perth City Hall

by Vivian Linacre
article from Thursday 13, April, 2017

IN SEPTEMBER 2004, Perth and Kinross Council published a brochure, launching a public competition to propose new uses for Perth City Hall, the great ‘B’-listed building to be declared redundant and closed upon completion of the new Concert Hall in 2005.   Scheme designs and business plans were invited with accompanying bids for a 125 years Head Lease.  The entire exercise was conducted in private by a few officers; none with the necessary qualifications or experience as the Council employed only property managers.  No specialist consultant surveyors were engaged.  No independent expert valuation was obtained for the Council’s guidance. Marketing and advertising were minimal and far too late to widen interest.

The lavishly produced brochure provided no essential information on programme or procedures but featured several photographs, including one of New York’s “Rockerfeller [sic] Center”.   Approved ‘Land Uses’ included “Residential:  there has been significant growth in housing in the city centre in the last twenty years and there is support for further development.....”  But Part II S.8(1) of the Land Reform Act 1974 prohibits residential occupancy within a property held on long lease, yet a long lease was all the Council was offering. Challenging this contradiction at a briefing with the responsible officers produced a painful silence, as they had never heard of the legislation.  It was a false prospectus.

The closing date for submissions was 21 January 2005. Linacre Land Limited presented two schemes, ‘A’ and ’B’ plus an architectural scale model of ‘A’.  Informal responses from responsible officials were encouraging. The Council press office announced the Council’s satisfaction with the response, including one entry with an architectural scale-model – a highly improper public disclosure in mid-competition.

Yet suddenly we were told, on grounds which later proved fictitious, that the “project board” had declared the entries invalid and invited resubmissions by 29 April.  We added Schemes ‘C’ and ‘D’ to keep ahead of the game, while Henry Boot added refinements to their two respectable schemes.  But the third ‘front runner’, Wharfside Regeneration, who had submitted only one crude design, announced that they saw no reason to modify it, while unveiling a newly produced architectural scale model. 

Meanwhile, we learnt that the “project board” did not exist.  The FOI Officer wrote (April 6th):  “The Project Board to which you refer is the Council’s Executive Officer Team who in turn report to the Strategic Policy and Resources Committee.  The EOT consists of the Chief Executive plus four Executive Directors....The constitution of the EOT is not recorded.”

We were never invited or given any opportunity for interview or to make a presentation at any level.  

The decisive Council Meeting on 2nd November 2005 was advised of “consultation with local and national representative bodies including Perthshire Chamber of Commerce, Perth Civic Trust, Perth City Partnership, Perth City Centre Action Group, St John’s Kirk, Historic Scotland and the Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland.”   But the two between the Civic Trust and St John’s Kirk are imposters, slipped in as if additional independent consultees rather than mini-quangos created by the Council and cited here in order to bolster apparent support for Wharfside.  A diagram obtained by FOI illustrates the network:

City Centre Action Group is accountable to Perth City Centre Partnership Co-ordinating Group which is accountable to Perth City Partnership Steering Committee which is accountable to Perth & Kinross Economic Partnership which is accountable to the Council.

My full article (see PDF at the foot of this article) gives a detailed account of the Council’s gross manipulation in Wharfside’s favour of the genuine consultees’ assessments and also of the rival bids, from material elicited by relentless FOI enquiries.

Our schemes and Henry Boot’s were fully funded.  Wharfside’s, not merely unfunded but unfundable, was selected.  Some six months later, with no sign of progress, the Council executed a formal Agreement for Lease, binding the Council to a contract which Wharfside could not fulfil, while still assuring the public that it would.  The Council remained committed when the Agreement was reduced to a mere Option, by insertion of Sub-Clause 3.1.2, making it subject to:  “the Developer obtaining heads of terms from prospective tenants of the Development for the letting of the Lettable Units comprising not less than 50% of the net lettable floor space of the Development....”  Until at least half the units were pre-let, they could not obtain funding; but until the project was funded it was impossible to pre-let anything.  Yet that is what the Council agreed.

After years of total inertia, with a clear run in bullish conditions through 2006-07, the Head of Legal Services wrote to me on 11th September 2008:  “the Council remains of the view that despite the difficulties in the current economic climate, the Wharfside scheme will be delivered and will be a successful project for both the developer and the City of Perth.”

Four days later, Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy.  But it still took the Council another full year to cast off from Wharfside.  In any such public competition, if the preferred bidder fails, then the reserve bidder is invited to proceed; but yet again the Council broke the rules, choosing to ignore my company’s continuing interest.  Instead, they wasted another three years and huge expense on successive reports from consultants to prove that City Hall was not worth saving but should be replaced by a civic square, with successive applications to Historic (Environment) Scotland for Listed Building Demolition Consent which were bound to fail.

The dossier on this scandalous saga from 2004-2010, entitled ‘Designed to Fail’, has been preserved and edited for publication here.  Part I asks a series of unexceptionable questions, which would arise from any impartial review; Part II is a straight narrative that raises many more. This Summary will be followed by another on Monday to record the equally disastrous sequel, ‘The Present Case’ (2014-16).  It may not yet be concluded.

For a full account please read the complete article "Designed to Fail" by downloading the PDF at this link.

/files/Designed to fail.pdf

© VIVIAN LINACRE

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