The relatively brief report going to the Scrutiny Panel next Wednesday ( 31 Aug ) gives Councillors a much more frank and realistic assessment of where we are with town centre regeneration than we have been used to. It shows us that progress has been made, though very slowly, but that there are continuing question marks about the ultimate viability of the project. The developers will have to go to the markets in the autumn to secure funding for the leisure and retail elements of the scheme and if that is not secured the scheme will begin to unfold. Without the leisure funding, the residential development on the car parks must not proceed and if that occurs, there is some doubt about the need for the multi storey car park. Elsewhere, it is clear how important it is to get a legal understanding with Network Rail over the road realignment and the station forecourt, and the former is running up against serious time constraints with the government grant running out at the end of this financial year.
Things may very well fall into place but it is refreshing now to get a more honest appraisal of where we are. It looks like a 50/50 chance of success. The central business rational for this project, that residential development would fund leisure investment, has always been open to question in the local housing market. This is a very long drawn out process and the phase 2 element seems a long way ahead. The Council also needs to give urgent thought to the many other land holdings in the town that need regenerating but are not part of the Spirit of Sittingbourne project.
Roger Truelove, Leader of Labour Group on Swale Borough Council