Review into Scarborough Council's £22m scheme for old Argos building set to go ahead after dramatic vote

The old Argos building on Newborough. (JPI Media/ Richard Ponter)The old Argos building on Newborough. (JPI Media/ Richard Ponter)
The old Argos building on Newborough. (JPI Media/ Richard Ponter)
A review into Scarborough Council's £22 million scheme to build 200 flats for students and key workers in Scarborough town centre is set to go ahead following a dramatic vote yesterday evening.

A Conservative motion calling for the finances to be examined once again had appeared to be voted down during the meeting held at Scarborough Spa after Labour Mayor, Broadbent cast the deciding vote after a heated debate ended in a 19 to 19 tie.

Following the meeting, Conservative councillors queried the result with the council's legal director, Lisa Dixon, saying their own tally from the recorded vote had the motion passing by 20 votes to 18, with two abstentions.

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The issue centred around Conservative Cllr Alf Abbott who voted first and said "against" before correcting himself a few seconds later and saying "for" in line with his party's motion.

In an email to councillors today Mrs Dixon said the motion will be allowed to stand although the vote will be recorded as lost.

She said: "In terms of local government decision-making a councillor is only permitted to vote once on any matter and after the matter is closed there is little scope to re-open the decision.

"Therefore at yesterday’s meeting whilst a councillor appeared to change his mind after casting his vote, from a legal perspective this would not be permitted. Yesterday’s decision must therefore stand.

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"However, in view of the closeness of yesterday’s vote on this motion and the seriousness of the issues and concerns raised by members at the meeting, discussions have now taken place with both the Leader and the leader of the group proposing the motion and it has been agreed that the executive will implement the motion as proposed."

The motion called for a review in the authority's 2019 decision to replace the former Argos building in Newborough with a scheme drawn up in collaboration with Coventry University Scarborough and the York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, which runs services at Scarborough Hospital.

The development still requires planning permission but the Conservatives say that the impact of Covid has threatened the finances of the project and the increased the risk to the borough's taxpayers.

The motion was proposed by the deputy leader of the Conservatives, Cllr Heather Phillips, who said that construction costs had risen by 30 to 40% since the original vote.

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She said: "It is a commercial project with the most horrendous amounts of money involved. We need to make sure that we are doing the very, very best for the residents of the whole borough, things have just changed far too much for me since July 2019."

Cllr Phillips said it would not be her children "but my grandchildren" who will be paying off the project.

Her fellow Conservative Cllr David Jeffels, added: "I believe we have a responsibility to review the decision and proposal for the Argos scheme in the interests of this council, our partnerships and not least for the residents of the borough to ensure we do not create a long-term white elephant."

Cllr Robert Swiers said the "fantastic project" was a "pre-Covid decision" and needed to be reviewed.

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Labour deputy leader Liz Colling said the review was not needed as the project was already subject to a number of conditions, including planning permission which it does not currently have.

She added that the cost to the council was also capped, saying: "You as a council have capped the budget for this project at £22 million.

"If we cannot deliver it for £22 million then we will have to come back to you and you will have to make a series of decisions about whether you proceed [with the project]."

Cllr Colling told the meeting that the council had signed a contract for the project with developer Buccleuch Property (Scarborough) on June 21.

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Leader of the council, Cllr Steve Siddons, said the budget had not changed since 2019 and that both the university and the NHS had reiterated their support for the project.

He added: "We have to have the courage of our convictions that we made in July 2019. Nothing has changed in respect of this project.

"Anything else, whether delay, hesitation or reversal, will stop the delivery of the strong economic future our residents deserve."

The project, which is being backed financially by Scarborough Council, will provide new retail units on the ground floor and accommodation for 52 in-training NHS doctors and nurses from Scarborough Hospital and 150 university students on the upper levels.

The existing building will be demolished to make way for the new development.