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Financial Pressures Force Council to Cut Back on Some Projects Amid Pandemic

Published on: 19 Jun, 2020
Updated on: 19 Jun, 2020

Difficult choices are being forced on Guildford Borough council by the Coronavirus emergency.

There is significant financial pressure on the council’s budget which funds the maintenance of existing frontline services and council projects.

A £15 million emergency fund was agreed by full council in May in anticipation.

Cllr Caroline Reeves

Next week, on June 23, at a meeting of the Executive, councillors will decide whether to continue with four corporate projects. 

Council leader Caroline Reeves (Lib Dem, Friary & St Nicolas), said: “In light of the pandemic and the immense scale of the financial effect on Guildford, and on a national and international level, it has been necessary to review some projects.

“We completely understand and appreciate how important all of our projects are to our residents and businesses, but we are just not able to continue with them all at this time.”

Cllr John Rigg

Cllr John Rigg (R4GV, Holy Trinity) is lead for the Town Centre Master Plan, Infrastructure, Major Projects and Strategic Asset Management. “The report to the Executive next week puts forward a recommendation to adopt a stepped approach to our major corporate projects,” he said.

“This would allow some projects where we are already financially committed to progress and allow for some projects at convenient pause points to be effectively closed and the decision on their next steps deferred until the outbreak is over.”

The reasons behind the recommendation are that it will:

  • Relieve the pressure on the council’s reserves and the need to borrow money;
  • 
Enable the council to provide key services supporting the borough’s vulnerable communities; and
  • Continue projects that can help kick-start the local economy after the pandemic has passed or is controlled.

Cllr Rigg added: “In a different scenario we would continue with all of our projects, but it is just not possible or prudent.

“Some projects were led by us when Surrey County Council [SCC], as the highway authority responsible for roads in our borough, was unable to do so. The Blackwater Valley Hotspots project is one of these.

“It could be possible for our partners at SCC to move ahead with it but they are also working within an extremely tight budget and time constraints and the need to prioritise schemes. Another example is the bike-share project which will be progressed at a later stage in close collaboration with the University of Surrey.”

Projects recommended to be paused or ceased for the time being are:

  • Public realm improvements (Chapel Street, Swan Lane and Castle Street);
  • Blackwater Valley Hotspots;
  • Guildford Museum development project; and
  • Guildford community bike-share scheme.

Projects the council still want to progress, where prudent, include the following:

  • Sustainable Movement Corridor 1;
  • Walnut Bridge replacement;
  • Weyside Urban Village;
  • The new Spectrum Leisure Centre;
  • Town Centre Master Plan and Economic Regeneration;
  • Guildford West station;
  • Ash Road Bridge;
  • Town Centre Approaches;
  • Guildford Park Road redevelopment; and
  • Bright Hill Car Park redevelopment.

Brian Creese

Brian Creese, chairman of the Guildford Labour Party said: “The Coronavirus crisis has put an exceptional strain on the finances of the council, and Guildford Labour Party agree that the priority is to continue to provide the key services necessary to support the Borough’s vulnerable communities.

Further, the council needs to be ready to support the many local businesses which will need help and support to get going again. Thousands of jobs in retail, hospitality and the arts will need imaginative and constructive support, so it is entirely understandable that some projects need to be paused, but we are disappointed by the decision reached by the ruling group.

“The Museum project was to be the lynchpin of the “historic district” and would have been a key element in bringing people back into Guildford. Similarly, the Community Bike Share Scheme would be a start in making Guildford the Green Centre of Surrey, so it is disappointing to see these elements paused.

“We note that the Walnut Bridge replacement, the over-expensive project linking the station with an as yet unclear Bedford Wharf development site goes ahead, as do most of the major development projects. Some voters may wonder at the council’s priorities.”

Gavin Morgan

Gavin Morgan of the Guildford Heritage Forum added: “This is not good news for the High Street. Two projects aimed at making the High Street more appealing to visitors have been shelved. There is a big risk that the museum project will be kicked into touch for another five or 10 years. We must not let this happen or be distracted by talk of a “scaled-down design” in the North Street Development. I am sure housing and retail will get priority.

“We have a museum and the opportunity to do something with it right now with existing resources. Those of us involved in heritage need to show councillors what can be achieved. It would be foolish to throw away all the good work carried out over the last eighteen months or turn our backs on the support and interest that has been built up.”
Final decisions will be made on June 23 at the Executive meeting. Please see here the full report.

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