Council’s car park losing £20k a month

An artist's impression of what the site will look like once open.

An artist's impression of what the site will look like once open. - Credit: Archant

ABOUT £20,000 is being lost through the Dolphin Square car park every month, and critics fear North Somerset Council may have to cut services to cover the costs of its ‘scandalous’ deal.

When the lease was mooted for the Carlton Street car park back in November 2012, council officers believed the £435,000-a-year deal could, over its 45-year lifetime, generate North Somerset Council more than £20million in profit.

However, those figures were contingent on new development at neighbouring Dolphin Square. Now, instead of generating income, the car park has created a financial black hole, at least in the short-term, and all at a time when budgets are already being cut.

Cllr Donald Davies, deputy leader of the council’s Independent-Greens group, described the move as a ‘great risk’ when originally discussed, and said the mess is now a ‘scandal’.

He said: “If nothing starts to happen with development, then this wonderful piece of speculative ‘investment’ will cost the council about £1.2millon by the end of the decade.”

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“Of course when we hear of nothing but more cuts, this money will in reality have to be found by even greater reductions in services to us residents.”

A deficit of up to £650,000 will be covered by McLaren Life – as per the lease agreement – but with the council expecting losses to reach more than £525,000 by the end of this financial year alone, critics fear taxpayers will pay a high price for the lack of progress at Dolphin Square.

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Cllr Davies said the shortfall kitty will be used up by the end of next summer, leaving taxpayers footing the approximate £20,000 deficit every month until the car park becomes busier – something that seems unlikely until Dolphin Square work is carried out.

The car park’s proximity to Dolphin Square will mean it one day becomes a valuable asset according to the authority, but the longer Weston waits for the £45million regeneration project to kick into life again, the bigger the shortfall North Somerset Council faces. The chances of developer McLaren Life starting to build the cinema and restaurants this year look increasingly remote.

Some councillors discussed the lease deficit last week and a council spokesman said the long-term strategy would be realigned.

When asked by the Mercury what the council is doing to reduce the almost inevitable loss of public money, he added: “We do hold the freehold but there are no contractual requirements for McLaren Life Ltd to start development by a set date.

“Development is dependent on commercial constraints mainly securing a certain level of pre-let income. It is working hard to meet the commercial triggers that will enable it to enter into a build contract, when this happens it is anticipated the leisure phase will be delivered within an 18-month period.

“The lease of the car park does not contain break provisions but bearing in mind the lease is for a term of 45 years and the progress made to date to secure occupiers, it is considered extremely unlikely the Dolphin Square project will not go ahead.”

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