Sheffield council is accused of frittering away money

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CASH-strapped Sheffield Council has been accused of ‘wasting hundreds of thousands of pounds on pet projects’ - while at the same time claiming it cannot afford to keep open Don Valley Stadium or Stocksbridge Leisure Centre.

Opposition Liberal Democrats have highlighted council plans to spend £325,000 on creating ‘green links’ to Park Hill flats, and £80,000 to cover continued losses from keeping open buildings revamped under the Burngreave New Deal, including Sorby House which cost £4.5m but has struggled to find enough tenants to cover its costs.

Ruling Labour councillors, who are making £50m of budget cuts in 2013/14, say there is not enough money to cover the £700,000 annual subsidy needed to keep Don Valley Stadium open, or £400,000 to subsidise Stocksbridge Leisure Centre each year.

But Lib Dems say the money could be found by re-allocating funding from ‘pet projects’ and making other savings such as cutting pay of council staff on salaries over £30,000, plus axing senior managers.

At Park Hill, Labour have already been criticised for allocating £2.5m of council funds to the £160m project, to cover costs of maintenance and security at blocks waiting to be redeveloped.

Coun Simon Clement-Jones, Lib Dem finance spokesman, said: “At a time when Labour claim they’ve been forced to close sports facilities like Don Valley and Stocksbridge Leisure Centre, it beggars belief yet more money is being poured into Park Hill.

Some £11,000 has already been spent in the current 2012/13 financial year on the Park Hill Green Links project.

Meanwhile, the council is allocating £80,000 in the 2013/14 budget to continue subsidising New Deal buildings.

Sorby House is set to have cost £120,000 to subsidise in the last 12 months.

Labour insisted the Park Hill Green Links project is a continuation of work to revamp the hillside park above Sheffield station to provide a link to Park Hill - not part of the flats’ redevelopment.

Coun Harry Harpham, cabinet member for housing, said: “The Park Hill Green Links project is the third phase of the much larger Sheaf Valley Park plan to create a continuous chain of green spaces from Norfolk Park to Victoria Quays - forming part of the council’s long standing ‘City Centre Breathing Spaces’ programme.”

Coun Bryan Lodge, cabinet member for finance, added the subsidy for New Deal sites was only a ‘contingency’ that is unlikely to be spent.

Instead council departments are set to be moved in to the buildings to ensure they are full - and to save money on renting other premises.

n Stocksbridge united in fighting to keep its leisure facilities - see page 8.