Out of control costs of Labour's Civic Centre plans soar to £45 million - high risk, low return, wrong priority?

July 15, 2015 5:53 PM

Responding to the news that the cost of Labour's Civic Centre plans is soaring, Leader of the Opposition Councillor Anita Lower (Liberal Democrat) told local media that:

"Most people in Newcastle will be staggered by this crass and misguided announcement. We are told by the Labour leadership that there is no money for libraries, parks, street cleaning, and pavements, but they are now proposing to borrow £45m not for brownfield regeneration sites to provide much needed affordable housing, but for the biggest vanity project of them all. This will have no benefit at all to the citizens of Newcastle but it will create more luxury office suites for the leader, his spin doctors, and the under-performing senior management team. Many people have told us on the doorsteps during the election that they are appalled that the council planned to spend £18m on the Civic Centre - the news that the cost is now £45m will make many people very angry indeed.

We have deep concerns about this and will be making further enquiries about what this means for the council's operations. This move suggests that the council will be employing far fewer people and we want to know what this means in terms of job losses. We also question whether the proposal is legitimate, given the strict conditions on the listed building, and we want to know what will happen to existing customer facilities in the part of the building to be vacated - there is no detail about what will happen to the existing Customer Service Centre and Registrars suite.

Furthermore, we have serious reservations about the business case for the scheme. Borrowing £45 million - plus interest - to make an annual saving of £1m is a very high risk proposition for little return, even assuming the council can find new office tenants. The city centre commercial office market is regarded as having limited demand, as shown by the number of vacant premises and lack of interest from developers in building new blocks. We are extremely sceptical as to whether the financial projections stack up. The council has already had to abandon planned office development at the Great Park due to lack of demand and rezone this for housing.
Finally, there is the utter hypocrisy of this decision from Nick Forbes given his previous attacks on the then Lib Dem administration for "property speculation" when the council borrowed to provide gap funding for the Stephenson Quarter development, which provided important regeneration and helped create private sector jobs. We see no evidence that this has equivalent merit - it is simply the council leadership retreating to an ivory tower and showing just how much they are out of touch with public opinion.

Nye Bevan once famously said that priorities are the languge of socialism. By making this their priority, the council's Labour administration are proving that they are speaking a very different language from Newcastle's citizens and council tax payers. The sooner they are kicked out of the Civic Centre the better it will be for Newcastle - these clowns would be more usefully accommodated in a Big Top on the Town Moor.

Breaking news : There's an online petition objecting to this profligacy at