SERIOUS lessons must be learned from the Feltham Arenas debacle, an inquiry has concluded.
But a report published this week stops short of pointing the finger at any individual for the fiasco, which has cost council taxpayers at least £300,000.
Feltham FC was granted permission in 2007 to build a new stadium at its former home, in Shakespeare Avenue, Feltham, which was badly run-down and plagued by vandals.
But despite five years of building work, during which thousands of tons of waste and soil were buried on the site, causing huge noise and disturbance for neighbouring residents, nothing was built.
In fact the site had significantly deteriorated and the council this summer agreed to spend £300,000 returning it to something approaching its previous state so it could be used again.
The Feltham Arena Scrutiny Task and Finish Group, made up of four councillors, was last year set up to investigate what went wrong.
Its report, due to be considered by cabinet members on Thursday (September 12), makes interesting reading.
It says councillors were so keen to press ahead with the project, necessary checks were not put in place despite council officers' reservations.
It also raises concerns about a potential conflict of interests for former Feltham FC chairman Andrew Lonsdale, who was also the director of the company carrying out the building project.
But it says a lack of monitoring at the time means it is impossible to prove whether anyone actually profited from the affair financially.
"What is clear is that despite the good intentions in trying to bring a derelict site back into a productive community use, there were substantial weaknesses in procedure and governance that directly contributed to the events that followed," the report states.
WHAT WENT WRONG?
WORK at the 14-acre former landfill site, which also boasts the running track where Mo Farah took his first steps towards Olympic glory, was always due to be funded by income from the disposal of soil from nearby developments.
But while the club was given permission to import up to 16,000 cubic metres of soil, a council survey last year showed 73,000m3 of soil and building rubble had been dumped at the site - nearly five times the volume permitted.
Planning permission also allowed the creation of 1.8 metre raised banks for spectators, but the extra soil and waste dumped means the actual height of the land was raised by an estimated four to 4.5 metres - at least twice the height permitted.
The work was carried out by All Transport Limited, a company run by then Feltham FC chairman Andrew Lonsdale, which has since gone into liquidation.
The scrutiny group's report estimates the disposal of soil and building rubble could have generated revenue of about £1.24 million, which even taking into account associated costs could have led to a profit of some £318,000.
But Mr Lonsdale has insisted it only generated £360,000 revenue and the project overall made a loss of £100,000.
However, the scrutiny group's report states 'there is reason to doubt' his figures as he claimed the total volume of waste imported was only 41,000m3 - far less, it says, than the true sum.
The report also reveals how Mr Lonsdale was convicted in 2008 for the dumping of 600 lorry loads of waste on green belt land in South Bucks District Council.
He has also been the director of a number of haulage companies which were liquidated or dissolved and he was registered by Companies House as a disqualified director from October 2, 2006 to October 1, 2012.
The scrutiny group's report claims there was a 'clear conflict' between Mr Lonsdale's two roles but says it is not clear whether anyone profited from the work.
"(The figures suggest) there was the potential to generate significantly more revenue from the site than had been reported," it states.
"Whilst the lack of available financial information prevents us from establishing whether any party benefited financially, it also prevents us from ruling out this probability."
The issues only came to light after repeated complaints from residents, which the council was slow to act upon, and the report is highly critical of the way in which the project was monitored.
The scrutiny group says council procedures have since been tightened up but there is still no one responsible for monitoring building work and ensuring it complies with regulations once permission is granted.
Its report does offer residents a crumb of comfort, stating that their fears waste dumped at the site was contaminated are 'unfounded'.
WHAT HAPPENS NOW?
NO PLANS for the site's future, beyond returning it to a usable state, are mentioned within the report.
However, it does say residents who have suffered so much disturbance over the years should play a key role in determining its future.
"What that might be is beyond the remit of this review, but we are keen to see them kept informed and updated with any works scheduled for the site," the report concludes.
The report makes nine recommendations for changes to council procedures designed to ensure there is no repeat.
These include the need for financial checks to be undertaken of all parties involved in major building schemes, and for the creation of 'compliance officers', charged with the on-site monitoring of such projects.
There is already a stage three complaint from residents about the council's role in the fiasco - the highest level before it can be referred to watchdog the Local Government Ombudsman.
The complaints procedure was put on hold pending the scrutiny group's investigation and it is now up to residents whether they wish to take the matter further.
As for Feltham FC, it merged last year with Bedfont FC and now plays at the Orchard site, in Hatton Road, Bedfont.
However, the 'tenancy at will agreement' for the club to occupy the Feltham Arenas site remarkably remains in place.
REACTION TO THE REPORT
FELTHAM & Heston MP Seema Malhotra said she was pleased by the report's publication, having campaigned for clarity and transparency about what had happened.
She urged the council to now consult local residents 'as a matter of urgency' about how future money should be spent on the site.
"Families in Feltham and the surrounding areas deserve to have a facility they can be proud of," she said.