Saturday, 9 January 2010

MARKET REFURBISHMENT – WHY ARE THEY PLANNING TO SPEND £3.2 MILLION?

My fellow Birkdale Ward councillor Simon Shaw has called for a rethink over the plans by Sefton Council to spend £3.2 million refurbishing Southport’s Indoor Market. Labour and Conservative councillors on Sefton’s Cabinet voted in December to plough ahead with the project, despite a host of warnings in the officers’ report on the matter.

So last Monday, 4 January, Simon submitted an official “call-in” request which means that councillors on Sefton Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee will take another look at the matter at their meeting on Tuesday 19 January.

In his call-in notification, Simon identifies a number of matters which should concern any right-thinking resident. He warns that the £3.2 million scheme is unaffordable and speculative, particularly in the current economic climate. Simon quotes the following warning from officers in their December 2009 report to Cabinet: “These issues coupled with the present economic conditions and the resulting volatility in the retail sector meant that there was still substantial risk retained in this project.”

Another point of concern raised is the lack of an external partner, even though in March 2009 the Cabinet decided that “officers be authorised to explore options for external partner funding and support”. Simon suggests that the lack of one must cast serious doubt on the financial viability of this project as currently proposed.

Another key concern raised is that it is proposed that there will be massive increases in rents charged to traders, up by a minimum of 20%, with some of the smaller stall-holders facing rises of over 40%. According to the Lib Dem call-in request “such increases are likely to be unaffordable for many current market traders or prospective market traders.”

The final worrying area identified is in relation to “Public Realm” works - a crucial part of the overall scheme. However it appears that these have now been substantially cut. The recent report to Cabinet states that the costs of Market works are higher than originally estimated, and that "the net impact is that scope of the public realm improvements will need to be substantially reduced accordingly."

If you want to read Simon’s official “call-in” request you can find it here

Also, if you want to look at the December report from officers it is here

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