Steve calls for pause on £4million borrowing plan with ‘nasty whiff’

 

 Steve believes there’s a ‘nasty whiff’ about the ‘indecent haste’ with which Birmingham City Council has quietly processed a plan to borrow £4million on a project designed to convert the old Stirchley baths into council offices. He’s called for a pause in the plan until it can be determined that it’s economically viable and has public consent.

 

Steve said, ‘Of course it’s very sad to see the state of the former baths but this has been the situation since the building closed 25 years ago. I’m at a loss to understand why exactly, one month, before the council elections, there’s now so much urgency to force through a scheme that most people don’t know about and haven’t been consulted on. It took me some time to even get my hands on a copy of the report and I’ve lost track of the number of people who say they can’t get a copy of the plans.’

 

Steve McCabe wrote to the Chief Executive of Birmingham Council on 12th March and asked a series of questions about the prudential borrowing plan to finance the project. On 2nd April he received a six line reply which claimed the project is funded from corporate capital resources and made no reference to borrowing.

Steve said, ‘The Council’s own report states quite clearly that they intend to fund this project from corporate prudential borrowing. I looked up the prudential borrowing code and it states very clearly that when considering such an approach a council must show the proportion of net revenue to be consumed by the borrowing and the likely impact on council tax. The Chief Executive is avoiding answering my questions and treating my constituents like fools.’

 

The little known plan appears to be the brainchild of the local Conservative Councillor who is up for election this May. He envisages the closure of Cotteridge Neighbourhood Office, Selly Oak Constituency Office and Stirchley Community Centre and the transfer of staff to a refurbished facility at the former baths. He also plans to turn the existing public open space to the rear of the building, which the council holds on trust on behalf of the Cadbury family, into a fee paying car park. In a leaflet being circulated across Stirchley it is claimed the ‘Hub’ will have an art gallery, cinema, cafe, children’s play area and sports hall.

 

Steve said, ‘I’ve asked to see the council plans because I can’t see how all this can be afforded and incorporated in the space alongside the council offices and there’s certainly no mention of these facilities in the council report.’

It is estimated that the council will have to find £124,000 per annum for maintenance costs on the upkeep of the building.

Local councillors envisage that the project will be managed by themselves and council officers in what they are calling a Stirchley Village Regeneration Board. They intend to fund it from supermarket contributions although it’s not clear which supermarket they have in mind or who they have consulted on this.  Minutes from the Stirchley Neighbourhood Forum (13 February2012) reveal that there is disquiet about the rather antiquated regeneration model and the way it is excluding grassroots community groups. A recent bid for cash from the Portas Pilot Fund shows that there is a much greater coalition of business and community groups working together in the area than the rather narrow model being proposed. Local councillors have compared their model to that of Aston Pride which has been subject of some criticism.

 

Steve McCabe said, ‘These plans haven’t been made widely available but the report suggests that there has already been public consultation. I find that a bit hard to believe since they’ve effectively already tied up the deal with a start date of June. It all looks a bit sinister to me and I’ve yet to meet a person or organisation in Bournville who’s been consulted or supports the idea.’

At a meeting in Bournville last month more than 40 local residents urged Steve McCabe to call for a pause in the plan until it’s been properly reviewed and consulted on.

Steve has called on the Chief Executive of the Council and the Leader of the Labour Group (Cllr Albert Bore) to give an assurance that no more money will be spent on this project (over £60,000 will be spent this financial year with a further £1.6M planned spend next year) until there’s been a review which shows that it stacks up economically and genuinely has broad public support.

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