Yarmouth regeneration call

MAJOR regeneration projects in the borough need better scrutiny if they are to provide value for money to local residents, an independent report has said.

MAJOR regeneration projects in the borough need better scrutiny if they are to provide value for money to local residents, an independent report has said.

Great Yarmouth Borough Council's regeneration services was judged as “fair” and “promising” in a report released yesterday by local government watchdog the Audit Commission.

It praises the council for understanding the borough's “difficult economic issues” and increasing the town's attractiveness.

However, it says the service does not make value for money a priority and highlights the big screen saga where one of three giant TV screens, purchased for �200,000 each by the council, malfunctioned a few months after being installed in the Market Place and has since been removed.

The report states the council “failed to identify ongoing management and technical expertise required” for the project and that it was over-optimistic about advertising revenue, a blunder which left the council with a �57,000 operating costs bill for the three screens for 2007/08.

While the council has established a value for money strategy, the watchdog said it would take time to have an impact.

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Graham Plant, cabinet member for regeneration and tourism, defended the council. He said: “It would be difficult to see how that could have been better handled. We were told we needed to get high technology. This was high technology and we had a business plan, but it was the kit that let us down.”

The report gives the regeneration service a one star rating - on a scale of zero to four. It notes the massive strides taken to improve Yarmouth as a place to live, work and start a business as well as recognising “strong leadership and support” for regeneration within the council.

Over the last four years the borough council has attracted more than �50m from external funding streams such as the East of England Development Agency, the European Regional Development Fund and from Norfolk County Council for projects including:

The outer harbour development.

InteGreat seafront regeneration programme

SHARP project, designed to improve the town's secondary holiday area.

St George's Park regeneration.

Gorleston's Beacon Business Park.

While the borough council and its partners have secured significant investment the report states progress towards the council's 2020 vision is slow. Breaching the longstanding inequality gap in employment and wages between Yarmouth and the rest of the country is proving difficult.

Ranked the 58 most deprived out of 354 areas nationally, inspectors reckon Yarmouth faces tough challenges ahead with about 5,158 people, out of a population of 93,400, receiving incapacity benefit with a further 25pc of the population at a pensionable age.

While the report shows unemployment in the borough is improving, it is still worse than the national average with unemployment at 4pc between April and October 2008, compared to a national average of 2.1pc.

It says massive investment in local enterprise, such as the opening of the Novus Centre in Yarmouth which aims to give local people and businesses access to support, will take time to have an impact on employment statistics.

Inspectors said the council needed to recognise the impact of the recent significant influx of migrants from Portugal and central Europe which are not reflected in population statistics.

It was also claimed the overall cleanliness of the town did not support the council's efforts to improve the town's public image and support its tourism industry.

It points to a 2007 Mori survey which pinpoints public satisfaction with cleanliness as low and only 27pc of people were satisfied with how fly-tipping is handled.

Mr Plant said: “I'm pleased with the report. It has picked up the council's strengths on regeneration projects which have been a huge benefit to local people.”