For a project that has been beset with problems from the outset, the revelation that the £2.5 million grant from the SE LEP Local Growth Fund, which is intended to fund the road alterations in front of the railway station, requires that work is completed by the end of March 2017 is a serious concern.
The original project timescales clearly show that these works are expected to last six months and with only seven months remaining and the fact that the legal agreement between Swale Borough Council and Network Rail has still not been concluded, it would appear all but impossible to draw down the entirety of the grant.
Surprisingly following the recent rather bullish rhetoric from Council Leader, Andrew Bowles that “There are no reasons why we should not see cranes and diggers on these sites within 13 to 16 weeks” it might surprise you to learn that critical aspects of the project, namely the cinema and restaurants are still without funding, although The Spirit of Sittingbourne say that they anticipate going to market for funding in the autumn.
Swale Borough Council is at least sticking to its guns with regards to full project viability and until all elements of the project are fully funded the project is unable to commence.
Cllr Roger Truelove told us “The relatively brief report going to the Scrutiny Panel next Wednesday (31st August ) gives Councillors a much more frank and realistic assessment of where we are with town centre regeneration than we have been used to. It shows us that progress has been made, though very slowly, but that there are continuing question marks about the ultimate viability of the project.“
“The developers will have to go to the markets in the autumn to secure funding for the leisure and retail elements of the scheme and if that is not secured the scheme will begin to unfold. Without the leisure funding, the residential development on the car parks must not proceed and if that occurs, there is some doubt about the need for the multi storey car park. “
“Elsewhere, it is clear how important it is to get a legal understanding with Network Rail over the road realignment and the station forecourt, and the former is running up against serious time constraints with the government grant running out at the end of this financial year.”
“Things may very well fall into place but it is refreshing now to get a more honest appraisal of where we are. It looks like a 50/50 chance of success. “
“The central business rational for this project, that residential development would fund leisure investment, has always been open to question in the local housing market.”
“This is a very long drawn out process and the phase 2 element seems a long way ahead. The Council also needs to give urgent thought to the many other land holdings in the town that need regenerating but are not part of the Spirit of Sittingbourne project.”
We are now some 14 months on from the initially proposed start date on a project that is only supposed to have a 27-month construction period. Will it ever happen, who knows.