Across the county: Basildon Borough Council pulls out of £10million investment plan for town
General / Wed 13th Dec 2023 at 12:48pm
AN Essex council has formally withdrawn from a funding agreement through which it was awarded almost £10 million for town centre regeneration projects reports the Local Democracy Reporting Service.
At a cabinet meeting on December 7, Basildon Borough councillors passed a motion to withdraw from the Housing Infrastructure Fund (HIF) run by Homes England, central government’s housing and regeneration agency as presented by Councillor Craig Rimmer (Con., Pitsea South East).
The proposal to formally withdraw from the HIF came in light of a number of delays and shortfalls in project delivery since the funding was first allocated in 2019. The pandemic and its nationwide lockdowns, soaring construction costs and inflation as well as the impact of the Russian invasion of the Ukraine on international markets were all named as contributing factors in the failure of the scheme.
Further to this, the former owner of Basildon town centre’s shopping centre, Infrared UK, went into administration in November 2021. Being the largest shareholder of the HIF funding, the risk to the council of attempting to deliver projects according to schedule was judged to be potentially catastrophic.
Instead, the council has filed a request with Homes England for the return of £1.6 million of the authority’s money which has already been invested, allowing for the “continuation of a strong professional relationship” between the administration and agency. In addition, councillors say that having investment costs returned will not jeopardise future funding opportunities with Homes England.
Addressing the cabinet, Cllr Rimmer said: “The council doesn’t like to be in this position, and [formally withdrawing from the HIF] is not a decision it has taken lightly.”
He said that although many of the housing and regeneration projects which had been planned with HIF money were “no longer viable as things stand in the current environment”, the administration’s withdrawal from the scheme should not be counted as “a ‘never’, but as a ‘not now’”.
Council leader Andrew Baggott (Con., Burstead), despite echoing others’ disappointment, said that the administration accepting that it would not be able to deliver the projects it had hoped to was “an honest approach”;
“We have proved to Homes England that we are honest in our dealings and any other dealings we may have going forward.
“I’d like to thank our officers for having the guts to be honest in a professional manner which reflects the nature of this council.”
Councillor Terry Webb (Lab., Lee Chapel North), responding to the statement that the national lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 had an impact on the scheme’s delivery, said: “Covid has become an excuse for a lot of things which haven’t progressed”. He also said that it was “convenient” that the council’s £1.6 million claim would fall within the existing budget gap.
Conversely, Councillor Andrew Schrader (Con., Billericay East) called the council’s course of action a “prudent move”, and that the administration needed to remain a good-faith partner with Homes England heading into the future.
He said: “Sometimes you have to hold your hands up and accept the reality which is right in front of you.
“This is sensible; it’s not by any means desirable, but it’s where we are at the moment.”