Douglas rates rise is not inevitable, says Christian

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A RATE rise in Douglas next year is not inevitable despite the proposed investment in a £12 million library and multi-storey development, council leader David Christian has insisted.

He said it was his aim to keep any rates increase, if there was to be one at all, to the bare minimum.

Councillor Christian said the authority’s advisory committees had been set a target to keep increased expenditure to no more than 2 per cent.

But he said this did not translate to a 2 per cent increase in rates.

‘It’s not a fait accompli, it’s not necessarily the case at all,’ he said. ‘We’ve had three good years where we’ve had no increase in rates or just 0.5 per cent.

‘Times are still difficult and we still maintain our intention to keep Douglas rates as low as possible.’

Mr Christian said that with inflation at 3.1 per cent and the corporation looking to have to fund wage increases for both white collar and manual staff, the pressure on budgets would be intense.

But he said the committees had been instructed to come forward with schemes that were realistic and affordable.

‘In the past, we have schemes proposed costing a couple of million pounds. That sort of money is not available now,’ he said.

How, then, can the Corporation justify proceeding with a £12 million scheme to build a new library and multi-storey car park at Cambrian Place, opposite the bus station on Lord Street?

The borough is petitioning the Department of Infrastructure to approve the purchase of a parcel of land at Cambrian Place for £2.5 million and to borrow £12,072,000 for the development.

Mr Christian said: ‘People will ask why we are going ahead with a £12 million scheme in the current climate. But we can’t stay still.

‘That site has been crying out for development for the last 30 years. We believe it will kickstart the regeneration of that area.’

He explained that the project would result in the Corporation owning an asset rather than having to rent library and office premises. The authority will also get income from the car parking in the new 447-space multi-storey.

The council leader said the scheme would add 1.8 per cent on to the rates overall but this had already been built into last years’ budget and allowed in the level of rates set.

Cumbrian-based Time & Tide submitted a detailed planning application (12/0831) in June for the development at Cambrian Place, presently a car park between Fort Street and Lord Street.

Following some amendments to the original plans, it was readvertised.

Once it is considered by a planning inspector, recommendations could go before the Council of Ministers in December or early in the new year.

If planning consent is given, the project could be completed by the end of 2013.

Time & Tide is also the preferred developer for the Sefton’s Middlemarch site next door to Cambrian Place.

Outline planning consent for a 190-bed hotel and casino on the Middlemarch site was approved in 2006 but the consent has since lapsed.

Across the road, there are long-standing plans for a 120-bedroom four-star quayside hotel, serviced flats and restaurants on the former bus station site.

Tynwald approved changes in the summer to the agreed terms with developer Askett Hawk to reduce the amount of retail and leisure space from 72,000 sq ft to 40,000 sq ft.

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