Go-ahead for £22m Scarborough town centre scheme for flats and market square, but fears it is 'a pre-Covid project for a post-Covid world'

Scarborough Council’s plans to borrow £22million to turn a disused building in Scarborough town centre into 200 flats for students and NHS staff has been backed once more.

By Carl Gavaghan, Local Democracy Reporting Service
Thursday, 9th July 2020, 9:14 am
Updated Thursday, 9th July 2020, 9:17 am

The authority’s Cabinet took the decision to proceed with the regeneration scheme in June but that move was then the subject of two separate call-ins by councillors.

Five Conservative councillors and five independents signed call-ins, which asked the council to look again at the decision in the light of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The authority plans 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.

Artist's impression of the scheme

As part of the plans, the council is also looking to creating a “market square” which could include demolishing some buildings at St Helen’s Square, which is adjacent to the Argos site.

The call-ins were debated yesterday by the council’s Overview and Scrutiny Board, which could have asked the cabinet to look again at its decision.

By a vote of five to four, with the Conservative chairman of the committee Cllr Guy Coulson casting the decisive vote, the councillors backed the cabinet’s decision, meaning the scheme will now progress.

Cluster of Independent Members (CIM) leader Cllr Bill Chatt, who led one of the call-ins, earlier told the meeting that the decision on what he dubbed “Siddons Towers” after the leader of the council Cllr Steve Siddons, should be made by all councillors.

Artist's impression of the scheme

Cllr Chatt said: “Our environment has changed, I am very concerned walking blindly into an area where the council can’t afford to go.

“Send it back to full council. If it is such a good scheme council will support it.

“Members have to remember this is a 40-year payback and it is putting us in a really difficult position. We don’t know what Covid has meant to this council but we want to go out and borrow £22m.”

He added he would “run away from this scheme.”

Artist's impression of the scheme

Cllr Phil Trumper called the scheme a “pre-Covid project for a post-Covid world.”

The council’s finance director, Nick Edwards, laid out the authority’s financial position, saying said that it had been thought that pandemic could cost the council up to £12 million but this was now likely to be “significantly” reduced following updates from the government on council funding.

Mr Edwards added: “This scheme is predicated on the income you get from it will pay for the cost of buying and borrowing the scheme. So it has a nil effect on the bottom line of our revenue budget.

“So just to be clear, if we are not going ahead with this scheme this is not money and borrowings that you can use to help us out of Covid. The only reason why we can borrow this money is that the scheme pays for itself."

A number of councillors also spoke at the meeting about their concerns over what impact the pandemic could have on Coventry University (CU) Scarborough’s student numbers, which would be needed to fill the 150 rooms in the building for the university.

Jackie Mathers, Associate Pro Vice Chancellor at CU Coventry and CU Scarborough, told the meeting that the university had invested more than £30m in Scarborough and hoped to have more than 1,000 students enrolled in the town in September.

She added that CU Scarborough was “absolutely committed” to the project and believed that more accommodation would allow it to attract more students from across the UK and abroad.

Currently, approximately 80% of its students come from within a 40-mile radius of Scarborough.

Council director Richard Bradley added that the council was “protected” by safeguards in the contracts, with a number of steps that need to be passed before the deal is signed.

Mr Bradley said: “The development will not be signed into if its financial viability is not proven.”

He added that the scheme progressing is dependent on planning permission being granted first.

Council leader Cllr Steve Siddons also addressed the meeting, urging the councillors not to miss an opportunity to redevelop one of the most deprived areas of the town.

He said: “We have a choice before us. We can close our eyes, put our fingers in our ears and hope things get better or we can be bold and be the catalyst for the change that is so desperately needed in Scarborough.”

After more than three hours of debate, the board backed the cabinet’s decision to move forward with the project.

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