City property chiefs have been criticised over what has been described as a contradictory and confusing strategy for the Slessor Gardens pavilion.
The Waterfront cabin – costing the council in excess of £4,200 to run each month – has been empty since it was built in October 2018 despite aspirations to open it as a cafe.
Dundee City Council says it has been seeking operators for the venue – but those with knowledge of the negotiations claim the authority has handled those discussions so poorly that prospective partners have been forced to walk away.
Among other problems, insiders say the key issues are:
- City planners have said cooking can take place on the premises, but property managers insist it can’t – while demanding sample food menus from operators
- The pavilion has been built with a single toilet – but building standards officers say the building will need three, or possibly four, before it can open as a cafe
- Uncertainty over whether the pavilion can open when major events are on at Slessor Gardens – arguably the biggest potential trading days for such a business
- Full planning permission for the cafe’s particulars – indoor and outdoor seating, etc – has not been obtained, meaning further delays to any business opening on the site.
The Tele has also learned that council chiefs hoped to have an operator in place for March last year, and for a cafe to be opened by last May. Neither has yet come to pass.
A source said: “It’s really a public toilet rather than a pavilion given the restrictions in place.
“There are way too many hurdles put in the way by Dundee City Council – it’s regimented and anti-enterprise.”
Bill Newcombe, chairman of the City Centre and Harbour Community Council, has called for a full investigation into the pavilion project.
He believes the public has a right to know why the Slessor set-up is costing the taxpayer £4,266 a month but has been left without an operator after 16 months.
“I do not know how it has cost more than £4,000 a month to maintain,” Mr Newcombe said.
“What part of Dundee is it powering to cost £2,735 a month? There needs to be an inquiry.
“It appears that no one had a clear vision of the purpose of the pavilion.
“My perception is that Dundee City Council want to have their cake and eat it.”
The criticism comes as council bosses admitted miscalculating the costs of maintaining the vacant pavilion by a factor of 6,500%.
Officers initially said the costs were £4,700 a month – but the true figure is just £65.
A spokesperson for Dundee City Council said: “The costs associated with the pavilion are approximately £65 per month since it was completed in October 2018.
“We are sorry for any confusion caused and would like to reassure the people of Dundee that the council continues to work hard to attract the right tenant for the pavilion.”
“They tried to stitch people up”
Dundee City Council tried to hawk the Slessor Gardens pavilion as “a pig in a poke”, according to an insider with knowledge of negotiations.
Speaking to the Tele on condition of anonymity, they described how “pushy” council bosses tried to coax would-be partners into a quick and easy deal to run the pavilion.
“The site was to be closed when any big events were on or tenants would pay an inflated pitch fee, they wouldn’t be allowed to cook on site, it was all contrary to what it said in the original planning permission,” they said.
“It was advertised to tenants as a good opportunity, but the rent was to be paid for and guaranteed by the tenant’s company directors. The council was guaranteed money at the cost of an unsuspecting individual.”
Tender documents supplied to potential clients, seen by the Tele, promote the venture as “a unique and quality food offering which reflects the best of Dundee and its surrounding area.”
But the insider said the venture had been handled extraordinarily poorly.
They added: “They (the council) tried to stitch people up big time – but they immediately saw they were being sold a pig in a poke.”