The £4.3m cost for affordable flats on a former library site has been called “astronomical” by a councillor who voiced “concerns” the project didn’t gain planning committee approval.
The development, designed to accommodate people over the age of 55, will see the the former Prestatyn library building on Nant Hall Road demolished with 14 one-bed apartments and two ground-floor commercial units built in its place.
The decision to grant permission for the three-storey project was taken by a senior planning officer on March 16 this year, without putting the proposal before councillors at a public planning committee.
There is no suggestion of anything untoward, regarding the decision taken or the process.
However, several councillors have suggested Denbighshire council should automatically put planning applications regarding its own projects before members to ensure “public scrutiny”.
A spokesman for Denbighshire council said the proposal was determined “under delegation” by officers because there were “no objections from local residents, third party consultees or the town council, nor was there a local member call in request”.
The issue was highlighted during Tuesday’s cabinet meeting, when lead member for finance Cllr Julian Thompson-Hill brought forward an “urgent item” as part of a financial report.
Despite not being listed on the agenda – and no documentation being included in the meeting papers – he asked members to allow tendering for the £4.3m scheme to commence.
Cllr Thompson-Hill said funding of £1.4m would come to the project via a Welsh Government social housing grant, with the remaining £2.9m taken from the housing revenue account.
He added the plans for the former library site had already been before a strategic investment group.
Cllr Paul Penlington (Prestatyn North) said the lack of public debate surrounding the scheme “is a concern”.
He added: “The fact £4.3 million pounds to pay for it was so casually approved by DCC cabinet, with no scrutiny from other members or the public, is also extremely concerning.
“To hear the cabinet accepted the sum without question, for one block of council flats, is outrageous.
“DCC could give potential residents a four-bedroom house each at that price.
“This slapdash approach to planning and public finances is, to say the least, undemocratic, at worst I seriously wonder why this astronomical figure has been approved before going to tender.
“How much is Denbighshire paying for other developments without public scrutiny?
“I am asking questions of DCC to discover what the costs of other internally approved plans are and who is allocating such huge sums to untendered contracts.”
The planning proposal was submitted on October 21 last year and there have been a number of amendments logged since.
The three-storey building will include space for 18 vehicles in its on-site car park, which will be accessed from the adjacent Llys Bodnant development off Glyn Road.
Cllr Thompson-Hill said approval to tender the contract needed to be made quickly, with a decision on the preferred bidder to be announced in September.
The cabinet voted unanimously to approve the scheme being sent out for tender.
A spokesman for Denbighshire council said the £4.3m estimate includes “professional fees and a provision for contingency” and was based on “regional average construction prices”.
He said it also included the estimated cost of installing ground source heat pumps, solar panels, battery storage and a lift.
The spokesman added: “The actual cost of the construction contract itself will depend on the outcome of a competitive procurement process which will take place in due course.
“The council’s practice is to report the total estimated costs of capital projects before they are approved to go out to tender so the full extent of the financial commitment being entered into can be understood.
“This does not compromise competition during the procurement process.”
As an existing council site he said elected members were “involved in formulating the plans” for the provision of social housing and development management officers were “satisfied the proposal could be dealt with under delegated powers”.
Council schemes can go before the planning committee at the development manager’s discretion but these tend to be larger ones from the council could “derive a significant benefit” said the spokesman.
He explained this would not apply to a “small development of social housing”.