Barnsley regeneration: business rents won't pay the bills in future, council admits

Council tax payers will have to prop up to cost of Barnsley's town centre makeover in the years ahead because costs have escalated and officials now know income from rents will not cover running costs and loan repayments.

Thursday, 20th September 2018, 9:38 am
Updated Thursday, 20th September 2018, 9:42 am
Growing costs: Barnsley's new look town centre will cost so much taxpayers will have to contribute to future bills

A report will go to a full meeting of Barnsley Council later this month, with recommendations that in addition to putting in some of its own cash from '˜reserves' Barnsley Council will have to top up the income from rents paid by tenants to cover future costs. No details have been released about how much extra will be needed, though costs for the overall scheme which includes the new Glass Works shopping centre, a library, public spaces and other improvements has grown to more than £178m. That is partly because some additional work has been approved, but in other cases costs have grown far beyond original estimates, with the library building now expected to soak up more than £6m, more than 50 per cent up on the original projected cost. The council's ruling Cabinet has now decided to recommend a report for the full council to consider, recommending the authority puts in money from its own annual budget. The benefit to the town is that the investment is expected to create many new jobs and potentially kick-start other projects which will bring further prosperity. Council leader Sir Steve Houghton said: 'The positive impact of the development across the town centre is already visible. An investment like this not only stimulates inward investment and economic growth, it creates more and better jobs; our initial estimates suggest that the scheme will generate approximately 1100 jobs by 2025.

'The Glass Works is at an early stage in its development but there are already signs of new inward investment, such as interest from developers in the Courthouse Digital Campus project; and a number of new bars and restaurants open in the town centre, with additional ones planned.

'The total estimated construction cost of The Glass Works and the wider town centre redevelopment now stands at £178.1million.

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'This will be funded from a combination of borrowing and reserves that have been set aside previously for the scheme. The borrowing and the day to day running costs will mainly be paid for from rents from the retail and leisure units, with the council also making a contribution from its own budget. 

'The cost estimate of the development has increased to reflect a more up to date design for the scheme including an increase in its size and scope. It now also includes the wider public realm works, which will improve Queen Street, Peel Square and an area outside the transport interchange together with the construction of the Market Gate Bridge.

'Oversight, governance and value for money are at the core of everything the council delivers. We continue to stringently review all cost and income projections associated with the development, to make sure that value for money is demonstrated and achieved.

'The redevelopment of our town centre has been a priority for the council for many years. We want our town centre to be a thriving and vibrant place and it's great to see the plans coming to life.'

 The redevelopment is designed to breathe fresh life into the town centre, but has not been without problems.

A contingency fund for the Glass Works, providing £10m for unbudgeted costs, has already had to be topped up with more than £6m and the Lightbox library was hit with additional construction costs because of an underground culvert which had not been factored into the construction costs, something which has also set the schedule back, with the proposed Autumn opening now expected next Spring.

It has also emerged that the council is planning to hand over control of its new food court to an outside management company, rather than keeping it in-house as originally intended.

The council is also in dispute with market traders, with several meat and fish outlets leaving when the old market closed and the new premises directly off Cheapside opened, leaving much of the space currently unoccupied.

It has also decided to ban the sale of smoking related goods in the new market, as part of its overall policy to make smoking invisible to children and improve health, but that has brought the authority into dispute with market traders.

The Barnsley group of the National Federation of Market Traders has consulted lawyers and is threatening legal action over the decision, while stall holder Kieron Knight has put in a formal complaint to the council, questioning why the change has not been orchestrated through a new byelaw, which would have been open to objection and that market traders themselves were not consulted over the plan.

Barnsley Council has defended its position over the decision to bar the sale of smoking related goods, which follows recent successes in reducing the proportion of residents who smoke in Barnsley, though the figure remains above the national average.