THE Forest Council’s leader has accused a Government quango of putting at risk the £100m regeneration of Cinderford’s Northern Quarter and the redevelopment of the Five Acres site as a leisure hub.
In a confidential emnail to councillors seen by the Review, Cllr Tim Gwilliam (Forest First, Berry Hill) also says Homes England (HE), which owns the Five Acres leisure centre site in Berry Hill, has gone back on an agreement to keep it open until the end of the calendar year by setting a November 1 closure date.
The quango has taken on the role of the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA), a principal backer of the £100m Northern Quarter scheme for 1,000 homes, hundreds of jobs, an £8.8m road, and a college.
But the council leader says in the email the scheme could now be financially unviable because of u-turns on pledges to help finish the regeneration of the Northern United colliery site at Steam Mills, and plans to bring a Travelodge and new leisure facility to Five Acres.
In the email, he sets out the “difficulties” facing his Rainbow coalition, which took over the leadership of the Forest Council from the Conservatives last year,
Gloucestershire College is due to relocate from Five Acres to the new Northern Quarter building this summer. But the council leader claims HE is now backtracking on handing over land to complete the £100m Cinderford regeneration Spine Road, vital to the creation of homes and businesses.
He tells councillors it was ‘agreed’ in 2015 that the Northern United Colliery site “would transfer the land to this council for nil consideration and with a dowry of circa £175,000 to assist in site mitigation and clearance costs.”
“Now, in spring 2018, FODDC officers are informed by Homes England that not only (is) there no dowry, but also the council (will) now be required to pay the market value of the site which has been valued at £175,000, making any development of the site almost totally unviable,” he adds.
The Northern Quarter scheme was launched when the HCA bought the Five Acres site from the college to help fund its move to Cinderford.
He also claims HE “continue to prevaricate” over the ownership and transfer of Five Acres, threatening its long-term development as a leisure and sports hub, and potentially the interest of a major hotel chain in locating there.
Cllr Gwilliam says he has written to HE outlining the agreements that had been made by the HCA.
“In order to arrest the continued stifling of the district council’s regeneration ambitions” he has urged them to transfer the Northern United site, take prompt action on transferring the Five Acres site, including the free transfer of the playing fields and outdoor area, and to provide help with establishing a housing company for the Norhern Quarter.
Cllr Gwilliam adds: “Opportunities for grant funding, provision enhancement and certainty of progress have been lost due to the issues raised in this statement and simply put it can no longer be accepted.”
Contacted later by the Review, Cllr Gwilliam said: “Obviously we have been faced with difficulties that have prompted our contact with Homes England. I am confident that once they are fully aware of the issues we can work together to make a real difference to the Forest of Dean.”
n Correction: Last week’s story on the ‘November 1 closure’ of the Five Acres leisure centre incorrectly featured a picture of the Forest Gymnastics Centre which is not under threat. We apologise for any confusion caused.
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