Scarborough council leader defends legal scrutiny over Flamingo Land deal

Flamingo Land has been selected as the preferred bidder for the former Futurist Theatre site which was cleared last year at a cost to Scarborough Borough Council of 4m.
Flamingo Land has been selected as the preferred bidder for the former Futurist Theatre site which was cleared last year at a cost to Scarborough Borough Council of 4m.

The chance of a multi-million pound deal to bring a leading visitor attraction to Scarborough seafront must not be spurned, the town’s MP has warned, with a provisional agreement currently undergoing legal scrutiny.

Robert Goodwill has questioned the time being taken by the borough council to move the proposed deal with Flamingo Land forward. The visitor attraction was selected as the local authority’s “preferred bidder” to redevelop the former site of the Futurist Theatre earlier this year.

Since then, the leadership of Scarborough Borough Council has changed and new Labour leader, Councillor Steve Siddons, said it was important to ensure the development represents the best possible deal for all parties.

Flamingo Land’s initial designs for the site include a four-storey building with space for attractions, education facilities, restaurants and children’s play areas, a winter garden, rollercoaster and a cliffhanger tower.

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Scarborough and Whitby’s Conservative MP, Robert Goodwill, is adamant that bringing Kirby Misperton-based Flamingo Land to the town is too good an opportunity to waste.

“Flamingo Land is a great opportunity for tourism, for Scarborough to have that big attraction on the seafront, and the council should not be looking a gift horse in the mouth,” he said.

“There is not a long line of potential investors, it would bring more people into Scarborough and could see a continuation of investment.”

His comments came after a report by the Social Market Foundation think-tank warned of a widening gap between the economies of struggling coastal communities and the rest of the UK.

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Scarborough’s GVA - a measure of economic productivity - has fallen by 2.4 per cent in the decade to 2017 and while Coun Siddons agreed that urgent remedies are needed for seaside economies, the Flamingo Land deal still requires close scrutiny.

The council leader, who said he had discussed the situation with Flamingo Land’s owner Gordon Gibb, said: “We don’t actually know if it’s a ‘gift horse’ yet. It’s been a very controversial decision made by the previous administration and some of the issues have not been fully resolved.”

He said Labour councillors were frequently quizzed on the Flamingo Land deal by residents in the run up to May’s local elections and so when he became leader, he thought it was important to “take stock”.

“We are not against it, but are keen to familiarise ourselves with what’s already been agreed,” Coun Siddons said.

“We feel we need to be absolutely sure the arrangements are the right ones for the borough.”

A 250-year lease has been proposed for the vacant former Futurist Theatre site, a building that cost the council £4m to demolish last year.

Coun Siddons said: “The arrangements have raised questions in our mind whether the deal that has been done is a good deal and whether there is flexibility in that. At the moment we are taking legal advice.

“I don’t think it is unreasonable for a new administration to check that this is the right deal for the borough,” he said, adding: “We hope to be able to make a decision sooner rather than later.”

The Social Market Foundation’s report warned that tourism alone will not save seaside economies. Coun Siddons agreed, saying more high quality, better paid jobs are needed in Scarborough.

“The Flamingo Land proposal isn’t the only answer to solving our problems,” he said.

The Yorkshire Post approached Flamingo Land for a comment.