The Deputy Chief Executive of Wexford County admitted to being embarrassed after giving incorrect information to shop owners about the duration of a road closure in the Bullring where major refurbishment is taking place on new civic offices.
Tony Larkin told the monthly meeting of Wexford Municipal Borough yesterday (Monday) information on the timing of scaffolding works 'turned out to be incorrect' and this was 'a matter of embarrassment' to him.
'I regret that, It was inadvertent. It was an evolving situation as two weeks changed to four weeks and we had to adapt,' he said as he accepted that communication was not as it should have been.
The Director of Services fielded angry complaints from councillors who said his embarrassment was only exceeded by their own at now knowing about the project until contacted by business people in the area and they unanimously called for affected shopkeepers to receive a discount on their rates.
'It wasn't communicated to councillors what was happening in their own town and they only found out from frustrated shopowners,' said Fianna Fail councillor Lisa McDonald who tabled an amended motion calling for a rates discount for affected businesses and demanded to know if the hoarding and the two-way road closure would really be lifted on October 7, as now promised.
Sinn Fein councillor Tom Forde said it was disappointing that shopowners only found out about the work three days before it was due to start and he agreed they should be compensated in some way for the disruption.
Independent councillor David Hynes noted Mr. Larkin's embarrassment and said: 'It's more embarrassing for us - we were elected by the people and we will have to face them again at the next election. You are an unelected official.'
Cllr. George Lawlor of Labour called it 'a PR disaster' for the council. 'I wouldn't mind if it was local authority officials who had told the customers of the Council what was happening but it was the builder who arrived to tell them . There was no liaison whatsoever from Council officials.'
'The manner in which they were treated was shoddy to say the least',' said Cllr. Lawlor.
Independent councillor Ger Carthy wondered why it couldn't have been delayed for a few months when it had already been delayed from 2016 when it was originally due to start. He questioned whether it would be possible to put a new roof on the building by the stated deadline of October 7.
Mr. Larkin said the Council will have that street open and the hoarding gone by the opening day of Wexford Festival Opera and if the work is not finished the contractor will have to live with that until after the Festival and after the Christmas rush. He also promised regular communication with affected shopowners and constant monitoring of related issues including parking.
District Manager Angie Laffan explained that the Council signed a 15-year lease on the former TSB building in July of last year and a contractor was appointed in December to fit out the interior but dampness was discovered in the upper floors and the basement and the need for a new roof was identified. Under the terms of the lease, the propery owner is responsible for the structure and fabric of the building and negotiations took place regarding the necessary repair work to the roof and basement, leadng to a delay. She said the landlord is covering the cost of all the structural work being carried out.
Ms. Laffan said the Council could not accede to a request by business people to postpone the work as the local authority was bound to a contract and it was always going to be difficult anyway. The issue was also discussed at a meeting of Wexford County Council last week - on the day work started on the building - with members describing the decision to proceed as 'anti-business'. On that occasion, Mr Larkin said negotiations with the landlord were resolved to the Council's satisfaction.
'We are making all efforts to minimise any disruption to local businesses. There is no parking anywhere on that road. When it's finished we will hopefully have a major premises in the town centre,' he said.
CEO Tom Enright said: 'We are taking a derelict property and the new borough offices will bring significant footfall to that part of the town and will provide tourist information.
'Many companies in the borough district have been on to us about freeing up space in the County Hall and as our staff leave it frees up space for them. This should be a good news story.'
'You're spinning,' Cllr Carthy said.