Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Cornwall stadium plan gets a good kicking

The proposed Stadium for Cornwall got a good kicking at today's scrutiny committee meeting as councillors from across the political spectrum railed against the apparent assumption that the project would go ahead and demanded assurances that there would be no further taxpayer funding for it.

This was an interim report mainly aimed at getting councillors to raise questions that they want answered in the final report in the autumn. As such we weren't expecting many answers, but there do appear to be a couple of significant changes to the information given previously.

The first (and possibly most significant) was the language being used. Three officers were involved in the presentation and all seemed to indicate that this project going ahead is a foregone conclusion. When pressed, they stressed that no decision has been made yet, but the language used was still very informative.

One of the points I have been making consistently is about how much a stadium could possibly be used for anyone other than the first teams of the anchor tenants. In the past, officers have always talked about significant community involvement and used this as the reason why the council should provide support for the project. I've made the case, however, that with a rugby and football team sharing the ground, the pitch will not be able to stand any additional use and the most that the community could expect would be a couple of weeks in early summer after the football season has ended.

Today officers admitted that this is, indeed, likely to be the case. Their claim is that community involvement is more likely to be through the club's academy set-ups and on other facilities within the stadium complex (not that any are shown on the current plans). This appears to be a pretty large climbdown and brings into question the whole reason for Cornwall Council involvement.

Many councillors also raised the issue of paying for the stadium. Cornwall Council has made it quite clear that no more taxpayers money (beyond the current £120,000 business case funding) will be used. Yet there is no indication of where the money will come from. The anchor tenants will be asked for bonds, but this will not cover the cost. And so contributions from developers, prudential borrowing and other sources of income are being discussed. Councillors will want a lot of reassurance that these do not represent a backdoor form of public subsidy.

Before I get endless comments, I want to stress that there was widespread agreement with the concept of a stadium in principle and I agree that it would be a good thing. However the issue of who pays is key.

(Note: I should point out that my involvement with Launceston Rugby Club was properly declared at the meeting and the Council's monitoring officer has ruled that it does not prevent me from speaking and, where appropriate, voting on the subject)


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