Regeneration projects in three Somerset towns will be subject to “more rigorous” scrutiny going forward to ensure taxpayers are getting value for money.

South Somerset District Council set up three boards to oversee its flagship regeneration projects in Chard, Wincanton and Yeovil.

Phase two of the Chard regeneration scheme has had to be postponed, with officers admitting in January that the council had misjudged how much the town’s new leisure centre, which opened in November 2021, would cost.

The council has now agreed changes will be made to the three boards to ensure the remaining projects within each scheme stay within budget and deliver the planned benefits on time.

Natalie Fortt, the council’s regeneration programme manager, said: “We plan to introduce a staged approach to project management which will recognise the learning from the Chard ‘lessons learned’ report in ensuring that the end of each stage is accompanied by a consideration of whether the business case is still justified.”

Chard & Ilminster News: The new pool inside Chard Leisure Centre.The new pool inside Chard Leisure Centre.

Derek Yeomans – a former councillor who now sits on the committee as an independent member – said he hoped this new appointment would take a “hands-on” approach to ensure the work was being carried out as requested.

He said: “One of the comments made about the Chard regeneration, which went more than slightly wrong, was that the project manager wasn’t on-site virtually every day to monitor what was going on.

“Is the new project manager going to be on-site daily checking on progress and competence? We need a hands-on officer up to the end of the project.”

Jan Gamon, the council’s director of place and recovery, responded: “To say the Chard regeneration ‘went wrong’ is slightly unfair.

“That exceeded the cost tolerances which were specifically allocated to the leisure centre – but actually, the delivery of the leisure centre and the take-up by the town has been positive.”

Councillor Robin Bastable said a lack of proper project management had led to the second phase of the Chard regeneration scheme being postponed.

He said: “The first phase of the scheme ran double over the budget. The Boden Mill building is an absolutely glorious building – it’s standing there derelict.

“If it’s there for another ten years derelict, it will cost twice as much money to redevelop, and it is a crying shame.

“When you’re working with a Victorian site that’s been a mill, missing that the ground would be contaminated is mind-boggling.”

Ms Gamon replied: “The truth about what happened in Chard is not down to contaminated land. Essentially what happened is that the leisure centre was delivered within an approved budget, but insufficient attention was paid to the fact that this approved budget was intended also to deliver other things.

“The issue in Chard was around insufficiently robust governance around decision-making – and that’s why we have recognised that we need to be much tighter in our definition of what we can tolerate in terms of costs, time for delivery, scope and quality."