Swale Borough Council responds to SoS distress call
The news that the Tory administration on Swale Borough Council plans to borrow up to £28 million to fund the core of the Sittingbourne Town Centre project comes as no surprise.
It has been obvious since March, when they introduced an emergency funding provision of £30 million, that Swale was getting ready to rescue this scheme.
The developers, in spite of all the fanfare and hype, have always known, as we in the Labour Party have repeatedly said, that this project is of dubious commercial viability.
The Conservatives are now prepared to take a major financial risk. The assumptions about income are based on the presumed profitability of a multi-screen cinema and restaurants, plus a hotel and retail units. Based on inevitable uncertainty about the general economy plus widely held doubts about the demand for these facilities, Labour does not believe the risks are justified.
This is a massive departure in policy by the Conservatives on Swale Borough Council. For the last 15 years, they have steadfastly refused either to borrow or to use their growing reserves to benefit Swale residents, refusing to improve our children’s play areas and failing to tackle homelessness.
They have no mandate from the people of Swale to exhaust practically all of their borrowing capacity on this one scheme. What is there for Sheppey and Faversham for example?
People, including many Conservative supporters, say to us that this is not what Councils should be doing. Even if they must go down such a path, is it wise to blow all of our investment opportunities in one dubious project?
The Leadership on the Council must answer one question.
If they are going to fund the cinema, the restaurants, the multi storey car park, the hotel and the retail blocks, why is it still necessary to donate our car parks to the developers to build homes? What exactly are the people of Swale getting for such generosity? It isn’t the rest of the scheme, because the Council is now funding that.
With their overwhelming majority, I am sure they will take this forward. So, naturally, I do not want it to fail because the people of Swale will pay. However, it seems to us in the Labour Party, that the developers have played with the Swale Council and have emerged with what they want, the opportunity to build homes in a town centre location.