THE COST of restoring Huntingdon Town Hall has exceeded its £600,000 budget before work has even begun, it has been revealed.

At a Huntingdon Town Council meeting on Thursday it was revealed a further £9,500 has been spent on appointing a construction, design and management co-ordinator and a quality surveyor, on top of the £40,000 for a new project manager to replace ousted former town councillor Brian Luckham.

The restoration work, which includes renewing the hall lighting, re-pointing of the roof and replacing the toilets, is expected to cost £569,000, and was due to be completed by February next year.

It is currently running three months behind schedule.

Speaking during the meeting, town clerk Karen Cameron defended the decision to appoint two additional people.

Chris Barnes of Nene Construction Management Services has been asked to take on the CDM co-ordinator role for £1,150, and a quantity surveyor has been appointed for £7920 from Tilyard Construction Consultations.

They will join David Langford, who was appointed as project manager, earlier this month, under a temporary contract of employment with the council.

Mrs Cameron said: "The project manager was employed by an interview process. We interviewed three candidates. All three candidates recommended that we need a quantity surveyor and CDM coordinator to assist any project manager.

"Therefore, one of the first tasks was to appoint these people. We had not been advised of a need before. All three candidates were consistent about it."

Funding for the project comes from the HM Magistrates Court Service. A further £120,000 from the town council's agreed capital programme has been ring-fenced for installation of a lift at the hall.

Speaking after the meeting, new councillor Nigel Pauley admitted there were concerns about the project, but pledged the new council would look into the matter.

Only four members of the previous council remain following the May 5 elections.

Cllr Pauley said: "We are disappointed as everyone else is with the town hall, and that suddenly we need to spend an extra £10,000 on two other people.

"This situation is something we have inherited. We are going to make the best of it. Andrew Bish (new finance committee chairman) is going through the books with a fine toothcomb and asking questions.

"We will do our damdest to make sure the same mistakes are not made and this project makes the town proud."

Mr Luckham, was asked to step down as a volunteer project manager in February while a Huntingdon town councillor, because members thought it did not follow due process.

His application for the paid project manager role was rejected. As a former town councillor, Mr Luckham is barred from becoming an employee of the same authority until March next year.

Speaking at the meeting, Mr Luckham estimated his volunteer work had saved the council £20,000 and accused the council of not giving him a fair shot at the role.

He said: "Huntingdon Town Council is supposed to have a policy of open and fair recruitment that gives everyone a fair chance to compete for roles.

"In this case, the policy has been discarded since, as it is only 3 months since I was a member. In addition, the person specification for the role has been engineered to make me appear unqualified."

He threatened to take his case to the standards board.