Posted: Wed 28th Jun 2023

No plans to sell Newport Leisure Park, says cash-strapped council /
This article is old - Published: Wednesday, Jun 28th, 2023

There are no plans to sell off Newport Leisure Park in Spytty, according to cash-strapped Monmouthshire County Council, which borrowed £21 million to purchase the site. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

The deal, struck in 2019, has been contentious due not only to the amount of debt the council took on to become the landlord of a cinema, restaurants and other retail units – but also because the site isn’t even in Monmouthshire, but within the boundaries of neighbouring Newport City Council. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

The authority’s latest financial report shows the council received £109,000 less in income from the Newport Leisure Park in Spytty than it had expected during the 2022/23 financial year, while it had to shell out £160,000 for a service charge related to empty units at Caldicot’s Castlegate Business Park, which the authority also owns. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

The shortfalls helped push the council’s resources directorate over budget by £292,000, while the authority had to use £3.5 million from reserves to balance its budget last year. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

But Cllr Rachel Garrick, Monmouthshire’s cabinet member for finance, told a scrutiny committee the council should hold on to the leisure park, and Castlegate, and seek to recoup its investment and more. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

In 2019 council chief executive Paul Matthews said the purchase of the Newport site was intended to provide the council with a revenue stream to support services. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

Caldicot West End Labour councillor Jill Bond called for an explanation of the losses and asked Cllr Garrick: “The Newport Leisure Park- is it time to perhaps sell that off for a pound, or whatever, and perhaps review the learning from the purchase of that in the first place and whether we need to do that sort of thing in the future?” ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

But Labour member Cllr Garrick, who represents the Caldicot Castle ward, said it isn’t the intention to sell either site – which were purchased when the Conservatives controlled the council. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

She said: “Going forward I think our strategy will be very different where we’d like to invest. In terms of moving those particular pieces of estate on, at this stage and again we have considered it, we do need to consider we borrowed to purchase those and we have significant repayments to make and I would not like the council to consider letting those particular investment go at a loss. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

“We have to consider the repayments and the gap we would make should we do so and the property market in this area is not positive so we are looking to continue and look to increase and turn those into positive returns.” ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

Income from both sites is “reviewed regularly” according to the cabinet member, who has a reputation for being outspoken, who also revealed the Karen’s Diner restaurant chain, which has opened at Friar’s Walk in Newport city centre and markets itself as offering deliberately rude customer service, had considered the Spytty site. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

She said: “At Spytty we are particularly watching the situation very carefully particularly with Cineworld (cinema) going into administration in the United States but it seems that looks safe at the moment and are making progress on reletting the Enflate (adventure park) after that went into administration. Unfortunately we lost the intended Karen’s Diner, I was particularly looking forward to going as I think I would be their key clientele.” ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

She said the council’s property team is “working very hard” to re-let several units, but said the purchase of both sites shortly before the pandemic, and the knock on negative impacts on the economy, hadn’t been beneficial to the council. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

Cllr Bond had also said she was “surprised at such a big loss” at Castlegate as when the Caldicot Musical Theatre Society said it wanted to make use of units it was told that wasn’t possible as it “was full with people renting space”. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

Cllr Garrick said the current Labour-led administration is “not supportive of the council purchasing areas and moving community groups on, that’s not something we would choose to do.” ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

But she said the units had been fitted out and a deal agreed they be leased to a client that was expanding and it had also benefitted from a “rent abatement” deal which she said is “due to kick in soon”. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

By BBC LDRS ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

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