NO Forest firms have made a bid to develop the Five Acres site – forcing the Forest Council to look further afield for a contractor to take on the £9 million flagship project.

The Forest was successful in 2021 in bidding for £20m of government funding to “level up” the district, and part of the plans include the regeneration of Five Acres to create a new leisure, enterprise, education and community centre.

The land will be used for a £9m leisure facility which will include an all-weather pitch and a sports hall.

The council has previously said it wants the leisure development to be a “destination” attraction for the Forest and beyond.

While work has been underway to demolish and clear the site, the Forest of Dean District Council has not been able to find a local contractor for the project.

Communities and climate emergency Cabinet member Paul Hiett (Progressive Independents, Bream) spoke at last Thursday’s (April 13) Cabinet meeting of the challenges the authority faced in attracting a bid for the work.

He explained there were 30 local companies who expressed an interest in bidding for the contract for the design and build of Destination Five Acres.

However, no bids were forthcoming before the deadline on March 15.

“Work has progressed at pace to acquire, demolish, clear and develop initial designs,” he said.

“The programme board, with your agreement, in October 2022 decided to proceed with a design and build contract with an open procurement.

“We primarily set up this route so that local contractors could bid for the work. By February 1, 2023 we had 30 expressions of interest. However, when bidding closed no actual bid was submitted.”

Council leader Tim Gwilliam (Progressive Independents, Berry Hill) said the council went out under the original open procurement framework to try and get it to be local businesses that could deliver it.

“For whatever reason, that’s not happened but the way we are doing it now will mean local businesses will be able to benefit from somebody else delivering it.”

Cllr Hiett said the Five Acres project was always going to be part of a regeneration project and explained the scheme was “probably too big” for a lot of local companies.

He said the council will instead use the public sector Southern Construction Framework as it provides good value through mini-competition with eight contractors and offers good social value with investment in the local economy.

“This way they can still benefit and the benefits will still seep out to the Forest of Dean and local businesses,” he said.

Economy Cabinet member Bernie O’Neill (Progressive Independents, Ruspidge) said he supports the change of direction and explained firms did not bid because there was either too much competition, could not provide some or any of the services the contract needed or they didn’t have enough time to submit a bid.

He also said the demolition team which is working at the site has put around £200,000 back into the Forest of Dean economy.

Cllr Gwilliam said perhaps Forest firms could join together in future and form conglomerates to bid for council projects.

Cabinet agreed to appoint a contractor by using the Southern Construction Framework be utilised as it provides good value.

Council leaders also delegated authority to appoint a main contractor and enter into a pre-construction agreement to the authority’s most senior officers and the relevant Cabinet member.

The Five Acres development is being part funded by Levelling Up Funding and must be completed by March 2025. 

Failure to complete the development by then could result in funding being withheld or reclaimed.