Enfield Expedition | Construction at Meridian Water started late – now we are paying the price
Alan Sitkin, former Cabinet Member for Economic Regeneration and Business, slams delays and cost overruns at Enfield Council’s flagship development
We require our representatives to report their actions or inactions faithfully, especially when large sums are at stake.
Politicians who fail in this duty rightly tend not to last very long – as evidenced by the plummeting fortunes of Liz Truss, maligned for the economic damage wrought by her insane budget but also for her subsequent efforts to stifle the government. ‘to analyse. Horrifyingly, at Enfield we live with the same combination of abject incompetence and post-truth politics.
The Dispatch has published several recent articles detailing how Enfield Council’s regeneration projects are facing the same cost inflation as building is everywhere. In these articles, the councilors communicate a message that the huge overruns at Meridian Water are caused by external circumstances over which the council has no control. But as someone who had ministerial responsibilities for parts of this megaproject between 2014 and 2018, I know that this explanation for our impending financial catastrophe is complete nonsense.
It is true that construction cost inflation will hurt future Meridian Water phases. And it would be wrong to blame the current board administration for tomorrow’s challenges. But Meridian One, the first phase of development [originally earmarked for 725 homes, now increased to 977] was originally scheduled to be fully completed by early 2020 – long before Covid-19 and Putin-related inflation kicked in.
Now that inflation is higher, the costs of the first phase have increased enormously – a huge surcharge undermining Meridian Water’s overall viability. But the real failure here is that it took the council until 2021 to start working on a fully planned segment that was supposed to start three years earlier. The question is why.
The starting point is Meridian Water’s move from a development where the council had to go through lead developers (the condition for an advance £20m grant from former Chancellor George Osborne) to an internally managed project . The old Labor administration that I was part of always tried to get the right deals for Enfield, but realized that if we weren’t able to agree on terms, plans for urgency were needed so that the board could switch as quickly as possible to outsourcing work.
The problem is that Nesil Caliskan, when she became head of the council in 2018, apparently did not grasp the imperative for the council to fast track the first phase of Meridian Water. Megaprojects are ticking time bombs; the board may have been sitting on significant capital gains when I left office (thanks to our timely land purchases) but, as anyone with financial knowledge knows, in the lack of sufficient “in the meantime” revenue, interest charges on developments like this will eat up unrealized capital gains (i.e. financing and spending transactions must be chronologically coordinated ). This did not happen in the pre-Covid period of 2018-2020. Why not?
There seem to be two answers. One is that Cllr Caliskan was already a leader when she decided to appoint herself as Regeneration Manager as well, downgrading that tough job to a part-time job, even as a £6billion project hung in the balance. The second is that prior to becoming Chief, Cllr Caliskan seemed to lack relevant financial, business or cabinet experience. The same could be said for Mary Maguire, who served as finance officer at the civic center [she stood down as a councillor before the 2022 local election].
The end result is that during those crucial years, the political leaders who ran the Meridian Water megaproject failed to channel and galvanize council performance – and phase one construction began with three years delay. It is a failure that will cost local taxpayers dearly.