Single site, single thought?

Date: Tuesday 9th January 2018

IT might be a new year, but Eden councillors will find themselves facing a familiar topic at their first meeting of 2018 next week.

Back on the table is the controversial issue of whether large sums of money should be spent on extending Penrith Town Hall to make it “fit for purpose” as a local authority headquarters in the modern world and bring council staff under one roof; and also on redeveloping Mansion House for dual local housing and business office use.

The topic has been occupying councillors and officers since 2011, but taxpayers might have thought it had been put to bed in July, 2016, when the single site plan was put on hold, not least because of the costs involved.

At that time, it was hoped any town hall development would be funded by the sale of Mansion House, which remained on the market for a lengthy period. Now, however, the plan is to borrow more than £2 million from the Public Works Loan Board to be paid back over a period of 50 years.

According to council chief executive Robin Hooper, the cost of the loan should be more than covered by financial savings from having a single site and income generated from the new uses of Mansion House. Those assertions are brave, bearing in mind the present economic uncertainty.

It is good that Eden has a local authority that has a vision for the future, but the council appears to be becoming single-minded on this issue. Our representatives need to exercise caution before investing heavily in a project that could, in the worst case scenario, end up being a millstone around taxpayers’ necks.