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Deputy leader slams Tory group leader for ‘headline-grabbing’ opportunity

Cllr Di Clements questioned Cllr Paul Miller over Western Quayside development costs (Pic: Pembrokeshire County Council)

A CLAIM by the leader of Pembrokeshire’s Tory group that council investment in the Western Quayside redevelopment will take well over a century to recover, has been labelled a headline-grabbing opportunity by the deputy leader.

The food market development on the site of Haverfordwest’s old Ocky White’s department store is expected to be opened next summer.

The three-storey riverside building, a key part of Pembrokeshire County Council’s regeneration of the county town, hit the headlines last year with the unexpected discovery of hundreds of human remains.

In a submitted question, heard at the December 14 full council meeting, Tory group leader and Martletwy councillor Di Clements said: “EJ Hales recently published that it anticipated an annual return of approximately £90,000 a year from renting out the entire floor space in the Western Quayside project.

“The cabinet’s most recent report has an approved budget for this project of £11.35 million.

“This means that without any interest, administration or repair costs, the project will take at least 126 years to recover the cost of the project.

“Therefore, my question to the Cabinet member for Place and the Region [Cllr Paul Miller] is, what is the estimated number of years that he forecasts it will take PCC to recoup its financial investment in the Western Quayside (Ocky White) project, inclusive of loan interest, admin fees, building repairs that are not covered in the tenancy agreements and any other costs associated with the upkeep of the building?”

Responding, Cllr Miller – who also serves as deputy leader – referenced the 126 years claim: “There’s a lot wrong with this question, it’s very much designed to secure the Tory group a headline, rather than actually add any value to the debate.”

He told members the council’s contribution would be nearer £7m than £11.35m, adding that Cllr Clements’ “flat cash income” projections didn’t work, with revenue changing over the period “to our advantage”.

He said the scheme was “never a commercial investment but a regeneration investment,” with private investors unlikely to ever regenerate the area on their own, leaving it “rotting”.

Cllr Miller said both the council and Welsh government saw the need for investment; the area “transformed,” with a private investor now in the process of “a multi-million fit-out,” which would create for than 50 jobs.

“The opposition like to complain loudly about the capital investment in our communities across Pembrokeshire, but my question is what exactly do they offer as an alternative?

“I’ve said before that the alternative – it seems to me – is just abandon our town centres and look the other way; that’s what the previous administration did in Haverfordwest, in Pembroke, in Fishguard, and it’s not a policy that I or any of my colleagues are willing to continue with.”

In her supplementary question, Cllr Clements said that council costs for every £1m borrowed for the project amounted to £70,000 against the backdrop of £90,000 a year in rents, adding: “I’ll leave you to do the maths on that.

“It will cost the taxpayer a lot of money; do you think this is fair for those that pay council tax?”

Cllr Miller conceded there was a cost to the public purse, accepted “at the outset,” but said the upside was the Riverside development occupied and businesses investing in the county.

“The benefits aren’t just pounds and pence on the council’s balance sheet,” he added.