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Crucial 'Home Game' For Back to The Boro Campaign

McCain Stadium

This week could see the biggest match in Scarborough Athletics' season and not a single ball will be kicked.

A final pre-season home 'fixture' will take place on Thursday 13 August at the town hall in the form of planning application for the new Lidl supermarket development on part of the old Athletic Ground.

This is the final piece in the jigsaw of site sales and developments that go into the coffers, alongside a Scarborough Borough Council (SBC) loan and external grant funding, to enable the construction and development of a community leisure village featuring a new home for Scarborough Athletic.

The University Technical College (UTC) and the University of Coventry (UoC) have already been granted planning permission to develop their campuses on the residual land at Weaponness. That is step one.

A funding application, which was dependant on this planning being approved is step two and is either to be imminently heard or possibly already granted. The third step is the Lidl development on the section of the Athletic Ground nearest Seamer Road.

The Lidl sale makes up 21% of the total funding package and at this stage, rather unusually, the planning officers at SBC have not actually instructed committee members with a clear cut recommendation either way in the matter.

The reason? The sequential test. In summary, a retail applicant has to find the best available plot in town. Savile's, solicitors acting on behalf of Assura PLC, owners of the former St. Mary's Hospital site at Dean Road, argue that this is the site.

The planning officers appear to be in agreement that the Lidl proposal fails the sequential test. Alongside this, planning officers are wary of a recent ruling that left Ryedale Council facing a legal bill of approximately £400k after the High Court overturned planning approval passed for a supermarket to be built on council land in similar, but certainly not identical circumstances.

So why no categorical recommendation against then? Quite simply the mitigating circumstances surrounding the Lidl enabling site application. This important capital receipt contributes substantial funding towards the Leisure Village. These funds are needed, and quickly, so construction can commence on the Leisure Village, the UTC and UoC too, as the maximum financial benefit is extracted when the trio of projects are commenced and constructed simultaneously.

It is a bottleneck that members may feel under pressure to uncork. The report states that under 'normal circumstances' a decision would be postponed. Unfortunately the start of construction on site is needed in September 2015 on all three developments.

Savile's, on behalf of Assura PLC, argue that just because the funds are required this doesn't mean that the sequential test should be set aside. They identify, quite reasonably I suppose, that an alternative development can supply the funding at the Athletic Ground. More residential development perhaps? An alternative retail proposal that doesn't tread on dainty sequential legal toes possibly?

All well and good, but that’s where the kicker comes. Funding delayed is equal to everything delayed; primarily construction. Construction delayed means the spectre of further upward spiralling construction costs. At what stage does an already financially squeezed council say "no more"?

It already has to find over £17 million over the next 5 years for essential infrastructure works. Key word here is 'essential', as it is considered significantly more important, and takes precedence over, the Leisure Village Development.

Furthermore SBC cannot realistically commit to any further borrowing to fund Leisure Village construction outright; that was the whole point of pooling the cash from the enabling sites initially.

A fleeting scan of possible scenarios then.

  1. Planning granted. Full council approves overspend. Possible legal challenge from Assura PLC (after consideration of options)? Leisure Village delayed.
  2. Planning granted. Overspend not approved. Leisure Village delayed/mothballed.
  3. Planning denied. Alternative development for the Lidl part of the Athletic Ground sought. Leisure Village delayed.
  4. Planning delayed. Everything delayed.
  5. Planning granted. Overspend approved. No legal challenge. Spades in the ground September!

I've been deliberately circumspect wording the outcomes there. Nick Edwards, Director of Business
Support at SBC, is certainly more direct and conclusive in his assessment contained in the report of the planning services manager saying:

"If planning permission on this site is refused, and this essential capital receipt is not achieved, the Leisure Village project will be put in jeopardy."

The planning committee are not to be envied as they appear to find themselves in a no win situation in assessing the appropriate weight of the two issues; enabling site against sequential test. I'm sure they want the best for the town and without doubt the town is desperate for quality sports and educational facilities and the economic and cultural windfall that accompanies it. They've been handed a bombshell of a conundrum though. To defuse or pull the pin? That is the question.

Let's hope common sense prevails. Kick-off is 1pm.

Main image: McCain Stadium Gates by Me677 - Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Crucial 'Home Game' For Back to The Boro Campaign Reviewed by Community Author on 18:29:00 Rating: 5

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