A Cornwall councillor for Launceston has questioned whether spending millions on the proposed new ground for Truro City Football Club to replace the failed Stadium for Cornwall project is “sensible”.
Cllr John Conway said the money spent on paying for new pitches for an “ailing football club with 200 supporters” could pay to take Cornish children to school.
The discussion came as Cornwall Council discussed its beleaguered finances, which deputy leader David Harris admitted are a “mess”. There is a £15-million overspend so far this financial year, impacted by increasing home to school transport and housing budgets.
Cllr Harris, who is also the authority’s portfolio holder for resources, told members he hoped Michael Gove, the Government’s secretary of state for levelling up, “finds something under his Christmas tree for us”.
Plans have recently been unveiled for the new Truro Community Sports Hub, on land previously planned for the doomed stadium. It will include a 3,000-capacity main pitch arena which will serve as a permanent home for Truro City FC, who currently play their games in Plymouth.
Cllr Conway told the meeting at New County Hall / Lys Kernow in Truro: “My concern relates to Langarth sports pitches’ £2-million [which is already provided by a Section 106 agreement from the sale of the football club’s former ground at Treyew Road]. This isn’t the full amount for the pitches. I believe there’s another £4-million coming from another budget. The money from the other budget might be capital, but whenever we are putting capital into something it also has an effect on the revenue budget with five per cent interest.
“Now £4-million capital and the other £2-million bit is £200,000 a year. That would pay to take children to school rather than paying for a sports field for an ailing football club with 200 supporters who turn up for their matches. Does this seem to be a sensible way of spending our money? The Section 106 £2-million fair enough, but can we justify spending the rest of it in these times when we haven’t got any money?”
Cllr Colin Martin, who represents Lostwithiel, also asked Cllr Harris: “Can you be really clear to us whether the council is putting its own money into this sports facility. If this is going to be leading an expectation that some other council money is coming in alongside the Section 106 money, I’m not sure I can support setting the ball rolling.”
Falmouth councillor Jayne Kirkham also asked where the rest of the money was coming from for the football pitch on top of the Section 106 money from the sale of the Truro FC’s ground.
The first three phases of the sports hub, which will become part of the huge Langarth Garden Village housing development on the outskirts of Truro, are expected to cost £4.46-million. With £2.03-million of Section 106 funding secured from the sale of the football club’s former ground at Treyew Road for a Lidl store, this leaves £2.43-million to be found, not £4-million as suggested by Cllr Conway. It is proposed to fund this from the existing Langarth Garden Village budget. The requirement includes a further 10 per cent contingency taking the budget estimate up to £2.67-million.
Cllr Harris responded to the councillors’ concerns: “One of the key things with Langarth is that the garden village project involves delivering meaningful infrastructure. We’re not just building a football stadium – in fact, it’s not a stadium at all. There will be room for about 2,000 fans as it stands right now [the plans actually state 3,000 capacity]. Langarth is going to house 10,000 people so this is community infrastructure we’re providing. Amongst the money to come is a community hall.
“We’re effectively advancing the money for the Section 106 money to come from whoever develops those houses at Langarth. For example, if Cornwall Council develops the first 500 or 1,000 houses it will effectively be Cornwall Council having to pay Section 106 contributions like any other developer.”
Earlier in the meeting he urged caution as the effects of high inflation, interest rates and problems with contractors have caused a number of issues in delivering capital projects, both in terms of costs and and delivery timings.
“I am sorry to say the position has not improved with the forecast end-of-year overspend based upon October figures, meaning that steps are now being put in place to really target these gaps but not as yet putting in place the sort of Draconian spending controls that we have previously referred to,” added Cllr Harris.
Stephen Barnes, a Labour councillor, asked Cllr Harris: “How come we are in such a mess? We’ve got a Conservative council, six Conservative MPs and a Conservative Government that’s been in for 13 years, admittedly they’ve had to play musical chairs. I would have thought we’d have been in a far better financial position than this now.
“Who’s going to stand up and say ‘I’m responsible, I will resign’? Is it going to be David Harris, is it going to be the leader of the council? Who’s going to say the buck stops here?”
Cllr Harris replied: “I think the word ‘mess’ is quite reasonable. I’m not going to resign. I find the question slightly off, Stephen. We’re in a mess, to use your language, principally because of increased demand. Adult social care – something that was running amok two years ago in terms of costs we’ve actually been able to bring under control. Now we’re finding other areas of costs going up – home to school transport, children with special educational needs, housing; things that couldn’t be foreseen.
“This council has worked hard to keep our costs trimmed but it’s still going backwards, that’s why I said I am waiting to see what Mr Gove finds under his Christmas tree for us, because there better be something.”