Macclesfield residents are being asked to approve a near 25% increase in their Cheshire East Council tax precept.
A couple of years back, at a time when Cheshire East Council were dispensing funds to improve Cheshire’s parks – with the most being lavished (perhaps unsurprisingly) on Crewe’s parks – Macclesfield Town Council had the bright idea to do their own thing and take ownership of the derelict South Park Pavilion.
Why you might ask, when Cheshire East owned and bore responsibility for the building is anyone’s guess.
The pavilion had been used as a booking office for tennis and golf then a cafe for many years – sadly, all the previous businesses struggled before completely failing.
Now what the members of Macclesfield Town Council know about property development or business could probably be written on the back of a fag packet but that’s not stopped them dipping their toes – or more accurately putting our money – into a project that can only be described as financial insanity.
Having secured this potential money pit the council then had plans drawn up before seeking sponsors to cover the cost of the development. Unsurprisingly none came forward. We have to assume the individuals and businesses targeted have much more financial sense than our councillors and don’t wish to have their name associated with a financial disaster.
But of course, now, the Town Council owns and is committed to rebuilding this future huge white elephant and vanity project.
They’re telling us that they’ve been able to identify £548,472 in their financial reserves (our money by the way) for the project.
When Macclesfield Town Council was formed its remit was to be responsible for street furniture (benches), street floral displays and public toilets. Since then they managed to reduce the number of toilets to nil – up until last year – when the indoor market tradespeople’s toilets were converted for public use.
For this invaluable service every council tax payer in Macclesfield now pays an additional charge, known as a precept, on their Cheshire East council tax bill.
Now spending half a million of our money is bad enough but of course that’s nowhere near enough to fulfil the council’s ambitions to become property developers and/or business owners.
In an interview with Macclesfield Nub News, Town Councillor Sandy Livingstone was quoted as saying: “It is a very energy efficient design, it uses quite a lot of modern construction techniques. Because we are an eco-friendly Town Council, we need to build a building that uses little energy use in its lifetime as we possibly can.”
“It does mean we have to invest a bit more, but it does mean a return in the long run and the savings for the planet. Having spent a windy day in November planting trees here, it is that sort of thing we need to do. We need to move on to reducing carbon emissions.”
So how do you think Councillor Livingstone and his fellow councillors plans are going to come to fruition?
The council plan to borrow a further £1,250,000 – you read that right – £1.25 million!
Macclesfield Town Council are seeking approval from the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities & Local Government for a loan of £1,250,000 over a period of 40 years to pay for the pavilion.
To pay for this your – and my – council tax precept will have to be increased by 24.5% – but residents have to approve this.
The Council believes that once the pavilion is built and up and running the loan payments will be paid through contributions from income generated by the pavilion.
If you’ve had any experience whatsoever starting up and running a business you’ll realise that is nothing short of ludicrous.
Councillor Livingstone claims the building will be around for 100 years. Remember we were told something similar about the flats on Commercial Road. Built in the 60’s – dilapidated by the 80’s and demolished in the noughties.
1/ the building won’t last 40 years without a programme of repair, renewal and regular refurb. We can’t predict what will happen to the local economy within the next five years so to consider borrowing over a 40-year period is financial profligacy.
2/ have they built any sort of contingency for budget overrun into their costings? Look at any construction project and you’ll see at least a 20% overrun.
3/ Have they considered the maintenance and ongoing costs?
4/ If any number of prior businesses couldn’t make the cafe work how in heaven’s name are the new tenants supposed to?
5/ At even a modest 5.5% annual interest, a loan on £1.25 million comes in at £68,750 per annum – plus capital repayments of £31,250 = £100,000 a year. Divide that by 12 and you get a monthly rent required of nearly £8,500. On top of that the tenant will have their own costs for refit, maintenance, energy and staffing. What tenant is going to be in a position to afford £12,000 a month or £3,000 a week in rent?
6/ A catering-based business would need a refurb every 5 years – has anyone costed that?
7/ To generate sufficient profits to sustain such a high rent would need sales of a minimum £15,000 a week. A catering business would be looking for in excess of £20,000 a week. The only catering-based business capable of sustaining these sort of figures is Macdonalds, and they wouldn’t be building a £2 million building in a Macclesfield park.
8/ The marketing research conclusions don’t hold water – i.e. there’s an increasing demand for vegan products. Three Macclesfield vegan outlets have gone under in the last couple of years. The remaining one has had to start selling meat dishes to survive.
9/ Has anyone spoken to town centre business owners to establish how they’re doing? I speak to many and I can tell them – they’re nearly all struggling – badly.
9/ What, if any, business experience do any of the councillors have?
10/ One final question, just where are all these visitors going to park? And please don’t tell me it’s a sustainable development – and everyone will walk or cycle there.
If the Town Council is intending to run the business themselves God help us.
Councillor Livingstone is quoted as saying: “We want something to go with the elegance of the place, and create a space where people can gather. Because that is one of the conscious things that you see. There’s a lot of heritage here, a really active community, but it lacks somewhere to gather, and have special events like comedy evenings or art exhibitions.”
“Now we know over time this will be popular, we hope the new Pavilion overtime will generate income for itself.”
Note the word “hope”. Try securing a business loan from your bank by saying you ‘hope’ it will be profitable. And how many people are going to make their way to the South Park, on a necessary daily basis, to make this project viable?
Have any one of the councillors ventured into Macclesfield during the day and taken a look at our town centre? Why do councillors believe there are so many empty properties.
Why do councillors think Marks & Spencers pulled out of Macclesfield? Even M&S’s busy cafe was unable to sustain the business.
Why are so many Macclesfield businesses struggling and why do they think a new pavilion will buck the trend?
If ‘our’ half a million quid is burning a hole in the town council’s pockets might it be more practical to spend it on improving the town centre?
This is an incredible sum of our money that the council is playing with.
Think on, if this ludicrous project gets the green light councillors will all be claiming responsibility, but when the whole project fails, which it will, we won’t see those councillors for dust.
Business people, including myself, put up our homes to secure the funds to start and run a business. To do that we have to be extremely brave and confident of our abilities.
If our councillors are so confident that this will work will they underwrite the costs and put their homes on the line?
Don’t just ignore this – it’s critical you take a look at the consultation and make your views known. Simply hoping it will not happen doesn’t work.
Every year Cheshire Police is supposed to survey the views of every one of Cheshire’s 1.1 million residents seeking approval for their precept increase. Most people aren’t even aware of this as all the information is on-line and has to be found. Last year just 3,000 residents (out of that 1.1 million) responded – and only 2,000 were in favour. But, as more voted for than against, the result was seen as approval – and the increase was passed.
You only have until February 23rd to make your thoughts known – and it’s a very simple consultation
If you’re in favour of it that’s your call – that’s democracy for you. But if you’re not – make sure your voice is heard.
Our council is looking to put every single one of us into debt – but it’s you that will pick up the tab!
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