Rethink urged by two groups of councillors on plans for flats and market square at former Argos site in Scarborough town centre

Scarborough Council’s Cabinet is being asked to look again at its plans to borrow £22million to turn a disused building in Scarborough town centre into 200 flats for students and NHS staff.

Monday, 22nd June 2020, 4:32 pm
Updated Monday, 22nd June 2020, 4:34 pm
The former Argos store

The authority’s Cabinet took the decision to proceed with the scheme last week but that move has now been the subject of two separate call-ins by councillors.

Five Conservative councillors and five independents have signed call-ins, which asks the council to send the matter back to its Overview and Scrutiny Board to be reviewed.

Scarborough Council 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.

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.

However, concerns have now been raised about the viability of the scheme due to the Covid-19 pandemic and its impact on local authority finances.

The Conservative call-in, led by the group’s leader and deputy leader, councillors Derek Bastiman and Heather Phillips, says the decision was taken “without due regard to the massive change in the economic outlook for Scarborough Council”.

The call-in, also signed by Conservative councillors Marion Watson, Glenn Goodberry and Phil Trumper, raises concerns the group has about the pre-decision scrutiny process and says elected members should be given the chance to re-examine the project.

It concludes: “The current economic climate is so uncertain it would be incredibly risky to commit every man, woman and children who live in our borough to spending over £200 per person.

“It is difficult to support a project on this scale when it is not readily apparent how it will benefit the whole borough.”

A second, separate call-in has also been lodged by the Cluster of Independent Members (CIM) leader Cllr Bill Chatt. Signed by his fellow councillors Mike Cockerill (CIM), John Casey (Independent) and Sam Cross and Neil Heritage (no political affiliation), Cllr Chatt’s motion calls for the issue to once more be debated by Full Council.

Cllr Chatt told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that it was “not the same world” as when the scheme was last voted on by the full authority in July 2019.

He added: “Members need to talk about this again see if it is still worth going forward with. If it is then okay, go ahead but it needs re-evaluation and discussion.”

Cllr Chatt pointed to the council taking the decision to accept reduced rent from Travelodge which operates out of a council-owned building of how the authority’s finances were changing.

No date has yet been given on when one or both of the call-ins will be heard by the Overview and Scrutiny Board. The board can make recommendations to the Cabinet for it to consider.

At last week’s Cabinet meeting the councillors voted to progress with both the accommodation and market square schemes in principle, providing a number of viability assessments are met.

During the meeting Labour deputy leader and cabinet member for Inclusive Growth Cllr Liz Colling said the developments had risks but were vital to the borough’s future.

She said: “We all accept the economic environment will be difficult but I absolutely believe that the council’s post-covid recovery is an opportunity for us to build back better.

“It’s an opportunity to undertake strategic investments to kickstart our economy and I’m firmly of the belief that this should be us in our civic leadership role that does that.

“It is an opportunity to improve our offer for young people. We have all seen that we are losing young people who are leaving the area to further their careers or their education.

“It’s an opportunity to attract skilled professionals that our NHS needs and never has that been more starkly highlighted than over the last few months.”