Taxpayers face £9m bill to keep Scarborough’s North Bay dream alive

Tom FoxTom Fox
Tom Fox
Council leaders have voted to spend £9m on keeping alive Scarborough’s ill-fated £150m dream to redevelop the North Bay.

Councillors were divided by a threat from developer Roland Duce, of Benchmark Leisure, to walk away unless they came up with the cash to help build the scheme’s flagship £15m all-weather water park.

Labour members had been determined to consign the project to the dustbin but after a three-hour debate behind closed doors yesterday members of the Tory-led Cabinet agreed to stump up the money by just one vote.

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Tory Council Leader Tom Fox said the only alternative would have been to “pull the plug” on the whole scheme and rob Scarborough of a massive opportunity.

But Labour Group Leader Eric Broadbent was furious public money was being put at risk and feared hard-pressed community charge payers would be left to pick up the bill.

“We only lost by one vote. I don’t think the council leader can claim a victory,” he said.

“He is walking a very fine tightrope. It is a big risk for the local taxpayer.”

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Independent Councillor Norman Murphy – who once complained the council “had been promised El Dorado and not even got Butlins” from the scheme – was unhappy with the council’s choice of private sector partner.

“The risk is far more than financial. There is a risk the developer will walk away and the council will be left holding the baby.

“You can’t even say the scheme is on track. It is in the pipeline but whether it will ever spew out of the end of it is a matter of debate.”

The scheme to revamp the resort’s North Side has been dragging on for 15 years, having started life as the ill-fated Zenith Project.

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The glossy brochure which promised a futuristic domed complex over the whole of North Bay came with a glowing endorsement – from Jimmy Savile.

It led to the creation of the Sands holiday apartments complex and paid for the revamp of the Open Air Theatre and North Bay chalets and other facilities but it has so far failed to deliver on promises of the water park, multi-screen cinema or hotel.

Meanwhile, casualties of the scheme have so far included tourist landmarks such as the former Corner Café and Atlantis water park.

Planning permission was granted last year for the new water park, set to be run by Alpamare (UK) Ltd, near the Open Air Theatre in Burniston Road, along with holiday lodges and a holiday park, a family restaurant and parking areas. It promises to have a wave pool, a ‘lazy river’ and an infinity pool overlooking the North Sea, as well as the country’s biggest flume, to be known as The Tornado,

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Work on the site is not expected to begin until the end of next year, however, or even early 2015.

Privately, some councillors felt Mr Duce had wrong footed them by going public about his position before yesterday’s confidential debate.

Mr Duce, who believes the attraction could add £15m a year to the local economy, said he had been hoping for good news but had not considered it a “done deal”.

“The council have to appreciate my position,” he added. “The buck stops with me. The money I’m asking for might sound a lot by ordinary people’s standards. But the council could borrow the money over 35 years at virtually no interest.

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“It is a drop in the ocean compared with the income it would be generating.”

But Mr Fox was confident the safeguards agreed by the Town Hall would protect council taxpayers from risk.

“It is massive for the borough, its visitor economy and jobs,” he said. “The other option was to pull the plug and start again – but where and who with?”

The council voted 23 to 22 in favour of Benchmark developing the site.