The Stadium for Cornwall gets planning approval

Yesterday, at Cornwall Council’s Strategic Planning Committee, the full planning application for the Stadium for Cornwall was discussed. Previously only outline planning permission had been given. The plans for the stadium have travelled down a long and sometimes bumpy road.

Now finally, after hearing both supports and objectors to the plans, the committee unanimously voted to approve the plans. Only one Councillor abstained from voting. These plans have changed from what was originally planned, but it is still a good plan.

There are still a few matter that need to be sorted, like how the stadium will be paid for. However, it should be a lot easier to find a financial backer(s) now planning permission has been given. I doubt it will be tax payers money from Cornwall Council, as the current council voted not to use tax payers money in the building costs. Though this could change, as there will be a new council post 2nd May.

The committee was told by the applicants, the stadium could be built within two years if the finance is secured. I believe Cornwall deserves a large capacity stadium, and will look forward to visiting it once it is open.

Here are the possible designs for the new stadium:

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A NO to stadium funding from Cornwall Council’s Leader

A few hours ago, the Leader of Cornwall Council sent all Councillors a letter that he has sent to the partnership behind the Stadium for Cornwall venture.  Honestly, I am surprised it has been sent, as I would have at least expected the Cabinet to discuss this issue at their next meeting. I guess not. Though the Cabinet might have discussed this at one of their ‘informal meetings that is not open to the public, or most Councillors.

However, in the letter, it makes reference to the leaders personal view, but say’s given the full councils vote a few days ago, it would be inappropriate for the Cabinet to ignore that view. Personally, I have no idea where this now leaves the stadium project, but my fear is it will remain on the drawing board as one of those ‘it could have been great‘.

The response on the Pirates Rugby site HERE

Here is the letter:

 

 

The Stadium Decision a Few Days On

It has been a few days since the vote ‘to look into the possibility of some kind of funding’ was thrown-out out by Cornwall Council’s whole council meeting. As you would imagine the emotive subject of a stadium has intensified, with both sides of the argument defending their positions.

The decision has already attracted the attention of the Broadsheets, with all of it being (so far) negative. To date only one member of the public has come up to me to say the council made the right decision. Everyone else has said it was the wrong decision and what was the council thinking. This might not be 100 percent accurate, but it does give an indication on the feeling.

Many of the social media sites, including Facebook, twitter and other blogging sites have been expressing their feelings on this issue. Most that I have found have been very critical on the way the vote went. Emotions are high, and will more than likely stay that way until Cornwall Council’s Cabinet discuss, or give a clear indication to the next steps.

It is probably the first time since being involved in Local Government that Councillors have thrown something out, without asking for more basic information. Usually, Councillors will say ‘we need more information before we make our decision.’ However, this time it was just kicked-out. I find this most strange. Even many of the most ardent critics of public money being used voted in favour of the proposals because they felt only then they could make a decision with all the required information.

The ‘reply all’ emails have already started to bounce back among Councillors. Most of these are expressing the view of the council should have at least look into the funding, and not just boot it out. My gut instinct is the Cabinet is more than likely to press on with the proposal under their own powers. Those in the pro-camp would most definitely welcome this, but there is a note of caution.

This caution is even though many do not agree to the way the vote ended, it was a democratic vote. If Cabinet just goes ahead with the request and agree to help fund the project it is wrong because it would undermine democracy. It would be far more sensible to use the democratic process, and not just ignore a vote because you did not like it, or agree with it.

There are other more sensible ways of doing this. The Cabinet could agree to look into the various options of co-funding, being a partner, or owning the lot. This could then be brought back to the full council for a decision under the six month rule. This rule allows an already previously discussed item to be re-heard if at least 20 Councillors write a letter asking for this to come back. At least then, any decision would be made on fact and with due democratic process. Then the Cabinet could agree to the funding knowing it has the backing of the majority of the council. Of course it might not get that, but nevertheless must respect that decision.

The democratic system is there for a reason. It should never be circumvented just because a decision was made you might not like. If we do ignore the process, we undermine democracy. Then what are we left with?

No to Stadium Funding

I will start with an apology for the title, as the title, like the debate today was not about handing over a large cheque for £10m plus, but to look into the request by the group behind the stadium for Cornwall Council involvement and the POSSIBILITY of some funding to being available to the group.

For the record, I think the whole stadium issue has been handled badly. Far too many mixed messages have come from the Cabinet and the authority on yes, no, maybe to any kind of funding. This has been further complicated by the political kick-about this project has been subjected to. It has resulted in confusion not just in the council chambers, but also with the public.

What should have happened today is a request (and this could be from any organisation) for finance should be investigated fully, with a business case, and other important information be present to a future full council meeting. That way, a decision could be made on fact. This is important because it would show to outside organisations that Cornwall Council is serious about investing in the future. Sadly, this did not happen today.

Cornwall Council does have a good record of investing in major projects. You might not agree with these, but money has been handed over without a whisper from councillors, or the public. These project include:

  • Eden: Over £3.5m in total from Cornwall County Council and Cornwall Council.  A few month ago Cornwall Council authorised through the Leader’s Fund a further £100,000 to ‘look into’ green energy;
  • St Ives Tate Gallery: Over £4m has been granted/funded in the last few years;
  • Heartlands: total of £35m with at least coming £1m coming from Kerrier District Council and £1.4m for the housing on this site from Cornwall Council.

So why has the investigation into the possibility of Cornwall Council part funding the stadium had so much resistance from the elected members of Cornwall Council. From my own investigation and talking to many members of my electorate many do support the investment, but the caveat is no service should be affected if money is found for this project.

The debate on the principle of looking into funding was debated for over two and a half hours, with a vote taken at the end of this debate. It was a close vote, and closer than I expected. In the end 55 Councillors voted against the principle of investigating the possibility of funding, with 46 Councillors voted for. There were seven abstentions.

One of these abstentions was understandable because it was the Chairman who abstained and has at every other meeting of the full council. The Monitoring Officer (chief legal officer) did advise  the Cabinet Members they would not be predetermined if they voted on this. However, six of  the Cabinet Members (who were present at the time of the vote) abstained.  Only three Cabinet members voted. Two voted in favour, and one voted against.

It is a sad state of affairs that six of these Cabinet Members who are the executive members of the council decided to sit on their hands and abstain. I would thought as prominent members and therefore leaders of the council they would have had the courage of voting. It would not have made a difference to the vote, but it would have given a clear message that the Cabinet either supported (or not) this proposal. Abstaining just adds to the confusion this project has suffered with.

Now with the no vote, I am not sure where this leaves the stadium project. Cabinet could ignore the wishes of the council and carry on with the request. However, that would be a difficult position for the Cabinet to be in, as it would risk the wrath of the full council for ignoring the democratic vote.

The vote split by the part is as follows:

  • For –  10 Conservatives – 17 Liberal Democrat’s – 13 Independents – 5 Mebyon Kernow – 1 Labour
  • Against – 26 Conservatives – 17 Liberal Democrat’s – 12 Independents
  • Abstain – 5 Conservatives – 2 Independent (chairman being one of these)

 I guess we will have to wait till the dust has settled to see what happens next.

The Stadium – A £10 Million Punt or Investment?

The Stadium for Cornwall has and still is having a troubled time in getting off the drawing-board. I feel a lot of the problems have been with Cornwall Council’s overt secrecy, and mixed messages. This has left many Councillors suspecting something is not quiet right, with more going on than Councillor’s are being told. One of these concerns is the use of public money.

Let’s start off with saying the use of public money in building a stadium or the surrounding infrastructure is nothing new. I don’t think there is a stadium in the UK that has not had some sort of public funding in its construction, or running costs. So Cornwall Council will not be doing anything new if it does agree to part fund this stadium.

However, it is one hell of a coincidence that a letter is received from the group behind the stadium project asking for £10m after outline planning permission has been given for the stadium and Langarth Farm. You can’t help thinking this letter has been timed to be sent after these planning applications have been given permission.

This £10m request for funding from Cornwall Council will finally be discussed by the entire council on Tuesday 15th. The group behind this project have said they have ‘identified’ the other £10m needed to make this stadium a reality. In a report published on Friday afternoon, three options are on the table (more could come forward during the debate). These are:

  1. That the Cabinet be invited to consider whether it would be appropriate for the Council to take the lead in delivering a stadium for Cornwall which promotes community use and economic benefit for the people of Cornwall
  2. Pursuant to recommendation 1, that as part of the Cabinet’s consideration of any scheme for a stadium for Cornwall that a business case be produced including the identification of potential funding and proposals for the re-prioritisation of the existing capital programme of up to £10m and that no one-off or ongoing revenue support from the Council will be required for the Stadium.
  3. That the Cabinet request the Environment & Economy and Corporate Resources Overview and Scrutiny Committees to ensure that the proposals for any scheme for a stadium for Cornwall are fully scrutinised before making any recommendation to Cabinet for a final decision.

I can say there is considerable resistance to any public funds being used within the elected members. Lots of this has been well publicised in the media. Knowing what has been said before, I feel this request for £10m has a very slim chance of getting the backing of the full council. From my understanding, if the full council say’s no, it does not mean the council cannot fund this £10m. As the Cabinet of the council could under its own authority authorise this money. However, it would be extremely difficult for the Cabinet to go against the wishes of the entire council.

With a yes vote, and then Cabinet authorising the money a lot of work will have to be carried out before any money is handed over. The most important one is where will this money come from? Basically there are two options; using existing capital or borrowing the money.

If the council used existing capital this means the council will have to re-jig its current plans for capital investment. This could mean other projects missing out, or delayed. I know in my own Division the Boating Lake is desperate for major investment for repairs and maintenance. Initial estimates for this work could be ask much as £500k. So if the simple choice was Stadium or Boating Lake, then the answer would be Boating Lake.

The other option is for the council to borrow the money. The council could get a decent rate of borrowing because of its Triple A financial rating. The problem with borrowing this money is the cost of paying it back. It has been estimated that the annual cost of servicing this loan would be £800k per year.

More questions will have to be answered on who will actually owns the site and buildings, and what would happen if it all went horribly wrong. If it did go wrong, what liabilities would the council face? I have seen no details on these.

The report for the meeting can be found HERE  and the full meeting will be webcast.

Stadium Row Rubbles On

The Stadium for Cornwall debate, or should I say row, seems no closer to be solved. There is a lot of back-bench unhappiness over the possibility of tax-payers money being used in any aspect of the project.

Also, the lack of, or the perceived lack of transparency in the business case and finance surrounding this project. Will taxpayer’s money be used either to build it, or the infrastructure around it is another question that has not been answered in a clear way.

This frustration resulted in a motion being put forward by a group of Conservative Councillors, after a slight amendment is as follows:

“This Council supports the development of a Stadium for Cornwall as a private sector led project and recommends to Cabinet that if the Council receives a request for financial support, whether direct or indirect, including by way of guarantees or provision of infrastructure, that in the perceived lack of transparency surrounding the subject that the principle of providing such support be debated by Full Council before any decision be made by Cabinet”

I am supportive of a Stadium for Cornwall, as I really think if done right, it will be an asset to Cornwall. However, that does not mean a blank cheque should be handed over by Cornwall Council.

I really believe the best way forward is to disclose how much and who will be putting money into this project. This way the public will be able to understand and make an informed decision on this project.  But, before the public is told, all Cornwall Councillors should be informed to the true costs and who will be funding the various aspects of the project; as so far this has been lacking.

The vote for the motion was overwhelmingly carried.

A Leak – Food for Thought

Ever had an itch that you just can’t reach? The itch I am talking about is the ‘leak’ of a pink paper containing financial information (click here to read) on an option for the Stadium for Cornwall; and the following hostile message from the Leader of Cornwall Council basically accusing a Councillor of leaking it. My reply to that message took issue with this accusation because he was laying blame on members without a shred of evidence of who did actually leaked it. I mean, how do you really know it was indeed a Councillor who leaked it?

This itch continued but when I was again reading the pink papers something jumped out which made me recheck the information on Graham Smith’s blog. The picture of the page with sensitive information had all the financial information on one page. When in fact the documentation which the E&E Committee and those present at the meeting had this information on TWO pages. Yes that’s right, two pages.

So, what does that mean? Well for a starter this page is different to the committee papers, but I will also thrown in a couple of theories:

1. The leaked paper was a draft document which was not available to back-bench members
2. These were cabinet papers
3. These papers were fakes

I will let all those Miss Marples and Mr Holmes’ out that to draw your own conclusions and to ponder over the weekend. However, this leak smells as fishy as a fishmongers apron.

What’s the Future for the Cornwall Stadium?

The last 10 days has been a roller-coaster ride for the stadium project. First, Scott Mann resigned as Deputy Leader of Cornwall Council’s Conservatives over public money being used in this project, then, on Thursday, the West Briton published details of the business plan that was discussed at the recent E&E Scrutiny Committee that was closed to the public.

In the article published in the West Briton it say’s Cornwall Council is considering paying for the infrastructure around the site to the tune of £8m and could act as guarantors to the whole project that could be as much as £15m. Sadly, even though much of the detail contained in the restricted (better word than secret) report is published, I as a Councillor cannot give details, or even confirm if these figures are true because of the current rules that do not allow me to discuss the detail in the report because the council has not lifted the restriction on the papers.

What's the future?

The reliance of restricting information from the public is the main cause of distrust the public has on the project. I blogged before about the PR being a disaster and the recent article in the West Briton has added to that distrust. The often repeated mantra of ‘no public money will be used in this project’ will look too many as a lie. Using a clever play on words like ‘construction’ has back-fired like a badly tuned car.

Many Councillors are now saying the stadium project is now holed below the waterline and taking on water fast. This is a shame because this stadium could have been a real asset to Cornwall. If this project has any chance of staying afloat strong leadership is required immediately. More importantly, the public is told of the true plans, the finances and who is providing them; or else SS Stadium is going to sink beneath the waves to a watery grave.

 

You can fool some of the people all the time…

Council’s have a habit of being accused of being too secretive, even though those within the council environment sell the message of being ‘open and transparent’. If we were talking about a private company then it is up to the board or whoever owns the company to say how the company is run and its financial arrangement, or keep them secret. However, a council is not private, and any money and its use is of public interest. And rightly so.

The Stadium for Cornwall was always going to be, and is an emotive subject; no matter if you want to see it built, or think it is a folly. I have closely watched the proceedings and have been either directly involved via the Strategic Planning Committee (proposed approval for outlining permission), or indirectly as a back-bencher of Cornwall Council. I have often wondered how the PR around this project has been poor so many times.

Restriction of information under the guise of commercial sensitivity is one of the biggest mistakes the  council is making. You might understand the need for commercial sensitivity on subjects like a contract to offer a service or a bid process, but when there is a potential of taxpayers money being used and the cost is already well documented, you should be straight with the public. No matter if it is £10 or £10m.

The public is not stupid and if a plan is explained in a clear and detailed way, that public will be able to make a rational decision. You might not like the decision, but that decision will have been made on fact and understanding. Everyone knows the stadium will cost £15.2m for a 10,000 seat stadium and there are three key partners which have formed a new company to deliver this project. Having read the Cornwall Council scrutiny document three times, I feel there is only one or two details that I believe fall into any kind of label of ‘commercial sensitivity’ in the whole document. The rest of the information in the document should be in the public domain. Even North Korea would have the difficulty in claiming commercial sensitivity to most of this document.

The public is told in a (clarification) press-statement issued early Monday evening: “the council would like to make it clear that there has been no proposal to use council tax payers’ money to fund the stadium’s construction”. I was most surprised to see the use of the word construction. I would have thought it had been better to have used the words “no tax payers money would be used in the project other than that which has already been spent” (£120k and change). As the word construction could lead to further confusion and misunderstanding.

I really feel if Cornwall Council wants people to understand this project, and maybe support it (or not), then tell the whole story. If truth be told I am uncomfortable with a lot of what being said to date, and the restriction of information that should be in the public domain.

As a saying goes “You can fool some of the people all the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all the time”.

Stadium for Cornwall Business Plan Scrutinised

At the recent Environment and Economy Scrutiny Committee (EESC for simplicity) the long-awaited report and business case was discussed. This report was in two parts; the first being held in open session, and the second being closed. The reason for the second part not being held in open session due to the commercial sensitivity of many details contained in the report. It is a real shame parts of the report was in closed session, as many of the myths surrounding this project could have been explained.

The current business plans have been modelled on the current partnership of  Inox Group, Truro & Penwith College and the Cornish Pirates Rugby Football Club Ltd and does not include Truro Football Club. Also the plans have taken into account the Cornish Pirates current league status, and not a higher league, ie the premiership.

Any project this size is not going to have an easy time in getting though the various hoops to be a reality. The group behind the project also have work to do, especially on the financial side, but I think this message was taken on board at the meeting. The committee was told if the project is given the go ahead after full planning permission is granted; all the financial matters have been resolved, the stadium could be built and operational within a year.

Many good questions were asked today at the EESC, and points of clarification, or answers were given in response. I cannot specify what was asked, or said in answer due to the rules I am governed by. For me, there is a concern any decision on this project could be based on myth, or misunderstanding. It is fine to agree or disagree on a project, but accept it, or reject it on fact.

I believe the stadium will again be discussed at the next EESC meeting in March or early April. Let’s hope those concerns raised at this meeting will be answered.

Maybe the next meeting will be webcast as this project is very important.

 

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