The leader of Scarborough Council has welcomed a decision today that will see the authority build 200 new flats for medical and university students in the town centre.
At an extraordinary meeting of the authority, the council backed the plan from the new Labour-lead cabinet to demolish the former Argos building in Newborough and create the accommodation and retail space as part of a partnership with developer Wrenbridge Land Limited and Coventry University Scarborough and the NHS.
The scheme, which will require planning permission, will also lead to the creation of a town square when the building is pulled down.
The proposal had cross-party support with Conservatives and independents backing the scheme, though three councillors voted against, citing concerns about the financial commitment the authority was making.
The cost to the council has not yet been made public.
Speaking after the meeting, council leader Cllr Steve Siddons (Lab) said he was pleased that “most councillors” had backed the plan.
He said: “I’m happy they agree with the benefits this scheme will bring, I understand the concerns some councillors have but, as I have said, you can’t have regeneration projects without some risks being involved but you have to balance those risks against the benefits. I believe we have done everything we can to minimise those risks.”
Cllr Siddons said the scheme would “bring people back into the town centre” and also praised the work of the former Conservative administration for its “ambitious” town centre strategy which had helped lead to the project.
The demolition scheme will now move quickly with the council targeting September 2020 to have the first students move into the apartments. Cllr Siddons denied the plan was being rushed through without consultation and said the financial implication for the council and taxpayers would be made public.
He added: “I think the public has been consulted, we consulted widely on the town centre strategy at the end of last year. Interestingly, one of the main comments we got was ‘can we get rid of the Argos building and can we have town square?’ We have listened to that and are delivering it.
“As far as the costs are concerned we are still at a sensitive stage in negotiations and we can’t share that [at this moment in time] but it will be made available in time. I think the important thing is that this council wants to see the town improve and move forward in a new and dynamic way. For me, this is the first step in that project.”
The development will include what the council has termed “high-quality residential accommodation” for 150 university students and 50 NHS workers as well as opening up additional regeneration opportunities for the surrounding area.
York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Scarborough Hospital, would use the accommodation to house its trainees, which Cllr Siddons said would help the hospital with its long-stated issue of recruiting staff to the coast.
The regeneration scheme was backed by the former leader of the council and Conservative group leader Cllr Derek Bastiman.
He told his fellow councillors that while he had some concerns he was more worried about the prospect of doing nothing with the site.
He added: “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to get rid of one of the town’s ugliest buildings.”
His fellow Conservative councillor David Jeffels said the project would lead the regeneration of the lower town centre of Scarborough.
Not all councillors were convinced.
Filey councillor Mike Cockerill (cluster of independent members) said that he could not satisfy himself with the financial risk to the authority.
“While my heart says yes, my mind does not,” he said.
Independent Cllr Michelle Donohue-Moncrieff also urged caution.
She said.”The problem I have at the moment is the lessons from previous borrowings and the projects that are struggling now have not been learnt.”
The decision to approve the purchase of the building and the borrowing required was approved by the council with three votes against, Cllr Cockerill, Cllr Donohue-Moncrieff and Independent group leader Cllr Sam Cross.
The council will spend £50,000 to develop proposals for the town square as part of today’s decision.