We needed this business centre but we did make mistakes, admits boss
PUBLISHED: 08:08 09 July 2019 | UPDATED: 08:08 09 July 2019
Mark Bullimore Photography
The man who helped deliver a controversial business centre in west Norfolk admits mistakes were made but has defended the project.
Alistair Beales was member for economic development at King's Lynn and West Norfolk Council when the KLIC was built.
The Conservative councillor, who lost his seat in May, was tasked with delivering the centre on Nar Ouse Way from 2012 onwards. But the project is now being investigated after this newspaper revealed conflict of interest concerns and the council admitted it was worth around £3m less than the build costs.
The council gave almost £5m in loans and grants to the enterprise agency which built it, NWES.
But NWES failed to pay back a £2.75m loan last year.
Mr Beales said mistakes were made with the KLIC but added it was also going to be worth less than the amount the council paid for it because of the ambition of it.
But he said that should have been made clearer from the start to the public.
"I'm in favour of the inquiry (into the KLIC), it is really important that the council learns lessons," he said. "But we need to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water. The area needed this building."
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He added: "It is working and gives the council returns in rent so when people say where has the money gone? It is there in the building.
"What was lacking was a better understanding of the NWES business."
He said the biggest mistake the council made was thinking if it all goes wrong, it would own the building, without exploring the value of that building.
Financial problems at NWES came to light last year and its two senior directors, Kevin Horne and John Balch left the company.
NWES also hired a firm called Nautilus as project managers for the build - a company where Mr Balch was a shareholder and managing director.
But when council staff raised conflict of interest concerns they were not addressed.
Mr Beales said he did not know about Mr Balch and the link to Nautilus until reading about it in this newspaper.
"NWES was the answer (at the time)," he said. "They were the people who ran business centres. NWES was perceived as a very different organisation back then to now."
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