At a Cabinet Meeting of Swale Borough Council on Wednesday (July 16th) it was agreed to go ahead with plans for a £3 million plus multi storey car park on a site in St Michaels Road, Sittingbourne. The plan will be funded either through the use of reserves, or borrowing, or a combination of both. The Council has taken this step because developers have made it clear that there will be no further development unless Swale Borough Council first commissions, or even starts construction, in advance.
The Labour Group says it has “grave misgivings” about this whole process. They suggest that the Council may be getting out of its depth; that it is putting itself in a vulnerable position and that it is likely to be using Council reserves to save face on what has always been a weak project. They point out that it is conceivable that having built the car park, the developers do not deliver. What is also probable, they say, is that developers will make more and more demands, knowing that having committed so much funding, the Council will not be able to withdraw.
Labour Group Leader Mike Haywood says:
“Swale’s Tory Leader Cllr Bowles is throwing money at a multi-story car park because the developers are refusing to take the risk and pay for it themselves. £3 million of taxpayers’ money is an astonishing amount to throw at something without knowing the odds of success.”
“The Council have been forced to commit the funding because they know they cannot provide a cinema without it, but there is no guarantee it will be built or that the Town can sustain one with 7 screens. They lack the expertise; they don’t build car parks or cinemas. They are going in on a whim.”
“At the same time, they are cutting car parking spaces and making many long stay, like the one in Albany Road, despite the impact this will have on the High Street.
“The High Street itself is completely divorced from these proposals. Its future hangs in the balance – just the Town Centre’s chances are of securing a better future.”
Shadow Cabinet Member for Regeneration Roger Truelove says:
“We have always had doubts about the viability of the Spirit of Sittingbourne project. The idea of Swale Borough Council funding a £3 million plus car park was never part of the original agreement. There was a long period of inaction and then the developers came back with this demand on the Council. We don’t want to say this, but we are still very dubious and we fear that Swale is going to be left with a white elephant and a substantial hole in reserves. There is an element of trying to save face after years of disappointment”