Is council using Trop as election pawn?
WESTON’S Tropicana has become a political plaything, according to a would-be developer who says the council publicly supports his blueprint – but privately rejects it.
With council elections looming, North Somerset Council this week announced it had granted the Weston-based Nightingale Group ‘exclusive rights’ to redevelop the decrepit seafront attraction.
But owner Richard Nightingale says the council has also written to him to indicate it will not approve his proposals as they stand - leading the frustrated businessman to claim he has become an election ‘pawn’.
He says the Tory-run council is courting public favour by openly backing a development he says it will not support behind closed doors.
Mr Nightingale told the Mercury: “It feels like the Tropicana is being run as an issue in the election game and I’m being used as the pawn.
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“The announcement that we had been waiting for was the acceptance of our proposal and the immediate go-ahead to develop the site.
“But instead all we have been offered is further months of talks. It just feels like they are wasting time all the time.”
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The Nightingale Group is the only party interested in developing the pool site, after two previous schemes collapsed and rival bidder Havard Tisdale withdrew its proposals last month.
But Mr Nightingale says speed is of the essence in the uncertain economic climate, and the potential success of his ocean liner-style scheme for a swimming pool, ice rink, cinema and retail units hinges on a swift go-ahead from the council.
He says firm interest has already come in from a well-known pool operator, cinema company and several retail firms. But the proposal, he admits, falls outside the council’s criteria. It stretches beyond the site’s footprint.
He is also pushing for allocated beach parking either side of the Tropicana site, plus the removal of double yellow lines on Beach Road - although he rejects the notion of using the Beach Lawns for parking.
Mr Nightingale said: “In my view the criteria that was drawn up for the Tropicana is flawed.
“The first thing is there is hardly space for parking and secondly the footprint is far too small for a great tourist attraction at the site.
“I want to build an exciting tourist attraction for Weston, not an apartment block with a small pool.
“The criteria needs to be altered or we will just end up with apartments and a hotel.”
The current proposal, which would cost �25million to build the shell before operators move in, comes with a �1million guarantee that if it is picked, it would be built.
On Monday, North Somerset Council granted exclusivity to the site for six months, saying it wanted to ease the developer’s progress through an ongoing EU procurement process.
Leader Nigel Ashton said “I am delighted that we’ve been able to assist the Nightingale Group in this way while the procurement process is still on-going.
“It’s not something that we have to do, but we are committed to giving Mr Nightingale whatever support we can to help him develop his proposals.”