Alpamare: Former Scarborough Council leader backs calls for investigation into ‘irresponsible’ £9million loan
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Steve Siddons, who was leader of Scarborough Council from 2019-2023, is backing calls for an investigation into a £9m loan of public money that was given to Benchmark Leisure by the now-defunct council.
Benchmark, the developer of the Alpamare water park located in Scarborough’s North Bay, has gone into administration, prompting fears about the loan, of which almost £8m is yet to be repaid.
In 2013 Scarborough Borough Council (which has now been replaced by North Yorkshire Council) voted to loan £9m to Benchmark Leisure to ensure the completion of the water park, which opened three years later.
Sir Robert Goodwill, the MP for Scarborough and Whitby, has called for “a full forensic investigation into how these finances have been managed”.
Mr Siddons, who was an opposition councillor when the 2013 loan was approved by members behind closed doors, said that he voted against the loan to Benchmark as he had concerns “about the way that it operated”.
Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS), Mr Siddons said: “Without trying to blame anybody specifically, I think there was a lack of understanding of how some of these companies work.”
He added: “I saw lots of documents at the time that made me really concerned about this, but we couldn’t do anything about it because the deal had been done, so we were stuck with it.”
In 2021, Scarborough Council ended its agreement with Benchmark Leisure despite legal challenges from the company.
Sir Robert told the LDRS: “Right from the start Benchmark have failed to deliver what they said they would, and sadly it’s come to this”.
He added: “In my view, the priority of North Yorkshire Council should be to try and get it re-opened by Easter. It is an asset that we should ensure continues to deliver for locals and tourists alike.”
Administrators have said that the situation is “complex” and different options, including the sale of the facility, are being considered but stressed that “it is early days”.
North Yorkshire Council has said that it is considering all options available to it “with a view to minimising the impact on us and the Scarborough area”.
On the proposed investigation, Mr Siddons said that he did not want it to be “a whitewash”.
“It needs to be done properly, but whether they’ve got the appetite for it is another thing,” the former council leader added.
Benchmark and the company’s leadership were contacted for a comment.