Wokingham town centre plans could be "poisoned chalice" say Lib DemsBy Jon Nurse
February 28, 2013
Ambitious plans for Wokingham town centre could be a poisoned chalice for the borough, the council’s opposition has warned.
As the borough council approved its new budget on Thursday, Liberal Democrat Councillor Tom McCann cautioned the authority’s huge reliance on borrowing.
Cllr McCann said: “The borrowing of large amounts of public funds to promote private enterprise and raise incomes is not new but has a very bad track record.
"In the 1960s places like Bracknell town centre have proven to be a poisoned chalice to that council and the community.
“The ruling group believe the only way to revitalise the town centre in their eyes is to borrow more than £62 million and mortgage the future to the whole council.
“We turn and say the council has failed the residents of Wokingham borough by saying they will all take second place to this over-ambitious plan. Shame on you.”
Cllr Anthony Pollock, executive member for finance, responded: “We have costed it, analysed the risks and it will be successful.
“It is a lot more modest than the developments in Reading and Bracknell – the risks are less. Yes, they are there but we have our eyes fixed firmly on them.”
A large investment for the borough is its commitment to regenerating Wokingham town centre, a pledged sum of £62 million over the next three years.
Cllr McCann added: “This council is about to increase its borrowing over the next three years to £181 million; in order to do this it has to raise its borrowing limit to £289 million within three years.
“You will have borrowed more money over five years than this council has in its whole existence since 1974, leaving it with £16.7 million interest per year – costing each household more than £250 in interest per year.”
Opposition councillors delivered eight scathing critiques of the Conservative-led budget, following a theme that the leadership was indecisive and lacked strategic planning.
Cllr Prue Bray, leader of Wokingham Liberal Democrats, warned: “There have been a lot of costly mistakes in the last 10 years: u-turns that have wasted time and money, poor project management, delays and failures to plan ahead. We cannot go on like this.
“Finances will get even tighter over the next few years. They have to up their game or there is a real risk that the council might find itself in very serious difficulties indeed.”
Cllr Pollock replied: “In 2009 we knew budgets were going to get tighter and were one of the few councils in the country who anticipated the cut in grants.
“We do long-term planning, we are aware of the risks coming over the horizon. We are up for the challenge because we have vision, clarity and leadership.”