COUNCILLORS have cast doubt on the viability of the £100 million project to regenerate Cinderford’s Northern Quarter with an appraisal from 2014 showing predicted losses of nearly £10 million.
The district council’s redevelopment of the site had originally been expected to bring 1,200 jobs, 195 homes and a new college campus to the town.
The new Gloucestershire College campus and a section of road was completed in 2018, but progress has stalled since then, due to a lack of available funding coupled with legal challenges from environmental groups.
Construction work for the second phase has not yet begun.
And now concerns have been raised over the scheme’s viability after official assessments from 2014 were released to the public.
Cllr Nicky Packer (Green, Newnham) recently obtained district valuation service appraisals of the scheme following a freedom of information request (FOI).
She told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “I knew of an exercise undertaken on behalf of the council that showed a significant negative land value on the Cinderford Northern Quarter.
“After asking for sight of this for over a year, I finally lost patience and submitted a freedom of information request (FOI).
“In 2014, we were being told that developers would be keen to build on the Cinderford Northern Quarter, and £100 million of private investment was being predicted.
“However, the appraisal of the whole scheme, including policy compliant affordable housing, shows a loss of over £9.6 million.
“This is without including any cost for buying the land and doesn’t include the cost of building the spine road.
“How could anyone, after seeing the assessment in 2014, still talk about developers queuing up to build on the CNQ?”
Cllr Packer says she wants to find out who was aware of the appraisal at the time.
She said: “2014 seems to be the first time that any viability appraisal was made, so the Cinderford Northern Quarter policy must have been put in place without any such guidance.
“I don’t know who was made aware of the appraisals in 2014, but I know that most district councillors were in the dark.”
A council-led scrutiny enquiry into the scheme began in November last year, with the final evidence gathering session having taken place on February 21.
The information obtained by Cllr Packer includes a 2019 review of the 2014 viability appraisal, which concentrated specifically on housing plots and did not review the whole scheme, as it did not include the employment sites which are supposed to provide 1,000 new jobs.
It found that the situation regarding housing development had improved between 2014 and 2019 due to the rise in house prices, but still did not show a viable development.
Cllr Packer said: “Viability doesn’t seem to be in the remit of the inquiry because it is said that the Cinderford Northern Quarter is a regeneration project, and this means it will need constant funding to proceed.
“How that fits with the original claims of ‘unlocking £100 million of private investment’ is unclear. In any case, I have passed all the FOI information to the chair of the inquiry.”
A spokesperson for the Forest Council said: “There is a large volume of wide ranging information which has been gathered at the Cinderford Northern Quarter Inquiry.
“The process is not concluded in that panel members need to agree a draft report with recommendations to cabinet.
“Accordingly, it would be inappropriate for the council to comment at this stage.”
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