Financial risk of new shopping centre needs to be addressed
IN RECENT weeks, the local Conservative Party in Rossendale has said that the Spinning Point development in Rawtenstall could be an important local election issue this year.
With campaigning now under way for control of Rossendale council, it will be interesting to see if that comes to pass.
It certainly wouldn’t be the first time the future of Rawtenstall town centre has been an election issue.
Indeed, when Rossendale council was in the early stages of planning for the new bus station, and facing considerable local opposition, Labour’s leadership pledged to do more listening... and subsequently agreed to save part of the old Town Hall which had been originally earmarked for total demolition.
At the time, Conservative opposition leader Darryl Smith said saving the town hall – along with a scaling back of the size of the new bus station – achieved the Conservative objectives in opposing parts of the project.
In recent weeks, the debate around the proposed new shopping centre to be built next to the new bus station has centred on whether the designs are suitable for a town like Rawtenstall and whether the right sort of businesses are being attracted.
Does Rawtenstall really need a town centre hotel? Wouldn’t flats be better for improving business in the town centre?
What of the largish shopping units being planned – is there really a need for those, when one of the units at the New Hall Hey development remains unfilled? ●● An artist’s impression of phase two of the Spinning Point Project
While those are undoubtedly important issues – and sadly, ones some local people feel were ignored by the council’s planning process, which approved new designs last week – there’s another issue bubbling away which needs to be addressed.
That’s the financial risk to the council of the new shopping centre not going ahead at all.
On more than one occasion senior councillors who have championed the scheme have said there is ‘no fixed date’ for when the scheme will be completed.
That’s probably wise, given the number of missed deadlines so far.
But at the moment, the council still can’t agree with the Royal Mail on how local postmen and women will access the town centre depot during the redevelopment of the bus station – something which is in danger of becoming an embarrassment for the council.
The council has also committed to a working group to look at ‘parking strategies’ in the town. It’s clear to anyone who is familiar with Rawtenstall that the current plans make an already congested town centre even harder to park in.
Now, in council agenda papers, it appears a bigger problem is looming.
A finance report submitted to the council in February said that the cost of getting the planning application signed off was £150k, with another £150k to get it to the ‘development stage.’
Those costs will be reclaimed once the new development is up and running and presumably generating income.
But this line in the report was stark: “Should phase 2 [the shopping centre] not progress, the council risks the forfeit of £1.1m of Local Growth Fund in relation to Phase 1.”
So that was money awarded to the council for the project, and used to help fund the new bus station, but dependent on the development of the shopping centre.
After the problems with the Empty Homes Scandal – said to have cost us £5m so far as taxpayers – Rossendale council can’t afford to be on the hook for another £1m.
If Spinning Point is going to be an election issue, it needs to be one in which the Tories give clarity on what they’d do differently in the town centre, while Labour needs to set out how it’s going to overcome the latest round of hurdles which threaten to damage confidence in the delivery of the scheme.
The Scribbler’s views do not necessarily represent those of the Free Press.