Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Council cash for stadium roundly defeated

The stadium for Cornwall project suffered a major blow today as councillors voted by 55 votes to 46 against any idea of public funding for the project.

The debate lasted all morning and heard from a wide variety of speakers. It's probably fair to say that those unequivocally in favour of the stadium were pretty few and far between. Indeed, no proposal to recommend approval of funding was ever made - perhaps fearful of a major defeat.

Instead, there was a proposal moved early in the debate by MK's Dick Cole to defer the decision for more information. Some will argue that we have spent long enough on the subject and that we need a decision now. However most of the information to come out to date has been so biased one way or the other that it's impossible to understand what is true and what fantasy. And worrying tales of lack of sewerage infrastructure, dodgy planning deals and lack of finances were also mentioned.

One of the most telling contributions came from Tory Phil Tucker. He said that the proposal was like a Nigerian email scam. They are asking for £10 million of public funding now, but shortly there will come a request for another £5 million to complete the project. And if we don't pay that then we risk losing the initial £10m. The process is endless and we end up paying more and more. And for all that the proponents of a stadium might say this isn't true, we have to reflect that as recently as a month ago we were being assured that no council money would ever be needed.

The Chief Executive was on the radio last week to suggest that Cornwall has spare capacity in its budget for such a project. But even that is not the whole case. It is like having an unused overdraft facility. The bank gives us permission to borrow the money, but we have to consider whether it is affordable (I understand the interest charges would be £800k or more a year) and, even if it is, should we be spending our money in this way when there are many other pressing projects. Councillors across the divide pointed to schemes in their area which desperately need investment.

I have always been against using any public money for this project. But I do understand that a case could be made for an unashamed community stadium not just in Cornwall, but for Cornwall. Such a case has never been put to councillors as the developers and council administration has tried to hoodwink us with made up claims of jobs and spend. Simply calling it a stadium for Cornwall doesn't make it so. I believe that we deserve to hear that case put to us as well as to have all the other claims and counter claims settled. For that reason, I voted today in favour of Dick Cole's motion for deferral.

The remaining question is how much notice the cabinet will take of this vote. In a modern day authority, it is for the Leader and Cabinet to take the key decisions and they would have the right to decide to approve the funding in this case. One person has suggested that the cabinet might decide to regard all those who abstained as having voted in favour. The trouble with that is that there were many councillors who weren't attending at all - to make an assumption as to how they would have voted is anti-democratic in the extreme. And with the number of voices raised in support of council funding for a stadium today able to be counted on the fingers of one hand, would they dare?

UPDATE: Three other councillors from different parties (and who all voted the in favour of the motion) have blogged. They are Dick Cole, Andrew Wallis and Jude Robinson.

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