By Lee Trewhela - Local Democracy Reporter

As they agreed an action plan to ensure a similar “failure” doesn’t happen again, Cornwall councillors have admitted the Saints Trail scheme was “a mess” caused by officers not communicating with them.

The Saints Trails had originally sought to create four new multi-user trails across Cornwall but was eventually scaled down to just two, with one of those also reduced in length. The £19 million project led to questions from councillors about how it had gone wrong.

An external review, commissioned by the council, found that the scheme had been “undeliverable” from the start and that officers had failed to share the full details of the project with councillors. Cornwall Council’s audit committee met on Friday, April 21 to agree an action plan proposed by the review to ensure the mistakes are not repeated.

David Harris, portfolio holder for resources, said at the meeting: “We all recognise the oversight in capital programmes. The Saints Trail has been kicked to death, the auditors have kicked it to pieces as well and have used the word ‘failure’ about it. It was a mess and that’s a nice way of putting it. I am now happy that we’ve got in place a decent capital operating model.

“What we had before to a large extent was that it all stopped at officer level and there was no member jumping in. We’ve now got proper member oversight. In the end it’s those people out there whose money we are elected to spend, and I’m happy with this.”

Launceston councillor John Conway added: “We’ve picked up an awful lot of things that have gone wrong. I used the phrase ‘unmitigated disaster’ which is a polite term for it. It’s not reflected well on anyone. What we really must do is pick up on the mindset that if something goes wrong you cannot tell members – and that’s what was happening to start with. Members weren’t told and now individual members will be told what’s happening.

“We can’t keep kicking this to death. I thank you for finally getting this out in the open and we do need to make sure that if any further projects do seem to go wrong, we nail it to the mast pretty quick and make sure that members are aware of it. We’ve got to take ownership of it, as members the buck stops with us.”

Barry Jordan, member for Camelford & Boscastle, added that “transparency is the word” and asked for a breakdown of costs, including how much the project has cost the council in comparison with its original budget. Service director Peter Marsh said he was unable to give a final figure as the project was still ongoing, but that information would be available at a later date.

Perranporth councillor Steve Arthur added: “It does beggar belief that this proposal comes in now but it wasn’t in place in previous years; that someone in an executive position hits problems and then doesn’t speak to the portfolio holder.” He was told that in the past those discussions had taken place but on an informal basis and the process was now being formalised and strengthened.

John Tivnan, member for Torpoint, told the meeting: “Communication was sadly lacking in regards to the Saints Trail. People were not aware of what the left and right hand, and the brain in the middle, were doing and that’s why we found ourselves in the situation we did.”

The committee agreed to implement a new Capital Operating Model which includes “updated processes taking account of lessons learned including a risk-based approach to grant acceptance and delivery management and ensuring that all risk factors are considered in any decision to proceed”.