New Roads and Leisure Centre For Ely Under Threat As Credit Crunch Bites

PUBLISHED: 08:53 14 November 2008 | UPDATED: 10:38 04 May 2010

LARGE-SCALE projects and investments in Ely could be hampered by the credit crunch. Ambitious plans to revamp the city over the next 20 years - particularly the building of a 2.5 mile Southern Link Road from the A10 Ely roundabout to Stuntney and the cre

LARGE-SCALE projects and investments in Ely could be hampered by the credit crunch.

Ambitious plans to revamp the city over the next 20 years - particularly the building of a 2.5 mile Southern Link Road from the A10 Ely roundabout to Stuntney and the creation of new leisure centre off the A10 - cannot be fully funded by the district council, who are courting private finance companies in the hope of securing more than £35m of investment.

The council had hoped that Network Rail would pay for a bridge over the Ely level crossing at Angel Drove - kick-starting the Southern Link Road process, but at a meeting on Monday, Geraint Hughes, representing National Express and Network Rail, said the amount the train company was prepared to invest "would not pay for two pieces of tarmac at either end."

The entire Southern Link Road project is expected to cost at least £27million and is currently the subject of a viability study by a council-appointed consultant.

It has been rejected for public funding twice by government officials.

East Cambs District Council's biggest shorter-term project, a new leisure centre at Downham Road in Ely, could be affected by the recent cut in interest rates and is also at risk from the lack of private finance available.

When the project to replace Ely's ageing Paradise Centre was exclusively unveiled by the Ely Standard in February, the council said they had £160,000 in a reserve account, projected to rise to £540,000 by the end of 2011 - but they will need to find private investment or a loan of more than £10million before 2010, in order to get the project off the ground.

"The biggest impact on the council is the reduction in interest rates, which is great for people with a tracker mortgage but less so for us," said John Hill, the council's chief executive.

There are also fears that private companies will be less likely to come forward to run the leisure centre in a recession, and that any loans obtained by the council to fund the centre will be more difficult to obtain.

Mr Hill told the Ely Standard it was likely that the council would have to renew its contract with the Paradise Centre, which runs out in 2010.

They still hope that the centre can get "on stream" by 2010 - but privately, some councillors fear they cannot keep to that date.

"The timescale you need to start work on a project of that size means you would need to start building early next year, and as far as I know, they have no partner involved to pay for it," Cllr Andy Wright told the Ely Standard.

"Given the ambitions of the council towards these much-needed facilities, if they are going to be in place between 2010 and 2011, they need to have a funding plan in place now to show councillors and the public firm intentions, particularly in this climate."

Mr Hill, however, insisted that the council's finances were robust and they had planned well in advance for the leisure centre.

"We have never hidden the fact that we may have to depend on private finance either to build or to manage the leisure centre or both," said Mr Hill.

He will present a "credit crunch report" to councillors on December 16.

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