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Cherwell’s Reckless Investment in a Struggling Shopping Centre Leads to Cuts in Services and Increased Charges for all Cherwell Residents

Cherwell District Council announced it’s budget last week detailing £4.4m in cuts and extra charges that it will be imposing on the residents of Cherwell as well as an increase in council tax.

During the budget debate I raised my concerns that around a third of these cuts and charges were as a result of losses incurred over the past two years in Banbury

In a nutshell the centre is predicted to make a loss of around £1.6m in the 21/22 financial year after having made a similar loss in 20/21.  On a broader scale, taking into account some small gains in the first 2 years the council owned the development, it will have racked up losses in the region of £2.5m by the end of the next financial year if the current predictions are correct.  To close the gap left by that hole in the budget there have been additional service cuts with around a third of those in the forthcoming budget directly attributable to pressures from Castle Quay. 

You may have seen some of this in the press this week in Oxford Mail and the Banbury Guardian

I was also interviewed by BBC Radio Oxford, although my section was recorded and heavily edited, after which Cllr Tony Ilot ,the Lead Member for Financial Management & Governance on Cherwell District Council, was invited on the show live to respond.  If we’d been on at the same time I might have pointed out that as the councillor responsible for this development it would have been more encouraging had he bothered to do his homework before coming on.  At one point he seemed uncertain about how much the losses amounted to (he guessed at £1.3m and the interviewer had to correct him that it was £1.6m) and he also claimed that the £1.6m was a cumulative loss since the council took ownership.  It’s not, it’s just the predicted loss for the forthcoming year on top of a similar one for the last year. You’d think the Lead Member for Financial Management & Governance might have been a little more cognisant of the situation given the scale of problem, but this lack of concern over important details is a familiar theme with Cherwell’s Conservatives.

Cllr Ilot also seemed quite laid back about the fact that the centre is now worth less than half what was paid for item having lost a whopping £30m in value.  They are also currently spending even more than the original purchase price for the shopping centre on the canal side extension which, as a retail analyst myself, I think they are going to struggle to make a return on.

You can listen to the interview in full here 

The council’s line on this has been that the losses at CQ have not directly resulted in an increase in the council tax. As that increase was already in the pipeline anyway that’s probably fair to say, but it also fair to say that if this white elephant wasn’t providing such a huge financial drag on the council’s resources, we may not have needed to increase the tax and we certainly wouldn’t have need many of the cuts in services.

It will be interesting to see how much support we get for the high street in Kidlington and the Exeter Close project in the light of all this.  Certainly something we can point them to if they start penny-pinching on our project to support the eye-watering amounts of public money that’s being poured into one scheme in the far north of the district that we’re all footing the bill for.

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