Fi­nan­cial risk of new shop­ping cen­tre needs to be ad­dressed

Rossendale Free Press - - The Rossendale Scribbler -

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.

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