A £1 million debacle which left the city’s Big Screen blank for a year while a legal wrangle erupted behind the scenes has been described as “probably not our finest hour” by Birmingham City Council leader Mike Whitby.
He was speaking after the Birmingham Post exposed the £985,000 cost to council tax payers of a failed attempt by the council to give itself planning permission for the BBC screen in Victoria Square.
The giant set, which was supposed to broadcast public information, sports events and concerts, should have been switched on in December 2007.
But lawyers acting for the owners of offices in Waterloo House secured an injunction prohibiting the screen from being used after claiming that the council failed to carry out noise assessment tests or consider the impact the set would have on nearby listed buildings.
After a year of bickering, and a costly judicial review, the council finally agreed to carry out the tests, fit a noise baffler, and reapply for planning permission.
While Coun Whitby (Con Harborne) did not issue an explicit apology, he admitted mistakes had been made. He told a cabinet meeting: “It is fair to say that this was probably not our finest hour. The noise inspection was not as thorough as it should have been. The consultation was not as thorough as it should have been. We have got to learn lessons from this.”
He denied that political pressure had been applied to force through planning permission. The council leader appeared to hold council planning officials, who he said had given advice to the committee, responsible for the mess.
Labour, which put the screen in Chamberlain Square when it ran the council, accused Coun Whitby of arrogance.
Deputy opposition Labour group leader Ian Ward (Lab Shard End) said: “The council was very arrogant in going ahead without carrying out a noise assessment and the recommendations now accepted on the advice of counsel all ought to have been carried out before planning consent was given.”