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Council’s £5m BeWILDerwood promise
A NORFOLK-based company will be handed a £5 million loan from Cheshire East Council to create an adventure playground in Tatton Park if planners approve the scheme.
The financial details were revealed in a previously private cabinet report after the council was told by the Information Commissioner to disclose the details of the proposed financial deal with Bure Valley Adventure following a Freedom of Information request by a resident.
The published cabinet report states the council would lend £5 million to Bure Valley to build BeWILDerwood, which would be repayable over 12 years.
It would also spend £1.5m of its own money on the infrastructure, including a car park, which will be repaid through park entry charges over 20 years.
The report added the new attraction would generate net returns of up to £400,000 a year to the authority during the loan repayment period, rising to £700,000 a year after repayment of the loan.
Clr Jamie Macrae said BeWILDerwood was a perfect fit for Tatton.
“Due to its unique character in the market place the option of open procurement tendering would not have brought suitable alternatives likely to be acceptable in the area or to the landowner,” he added.
“The part 2 cabinet report was kept confidential initially, so that the council could negotiate the best possible contractual terms.
“This is perfectly normal practice for local councils throughout the country when dealing with potential developers or investors in their area.
“Although its commercially sensitive aspects were kept confidential, the report was never secret. It was subjected to all the usual internal procedures.
“It was discussed by Cabinet, and all councillors had access to it through the normal channels as part of this decision-making.
“There are two important stages yet to come before any negotiations are completed and any formal contracts agreed.
“The first is the consideration of the BeWILDerwood proposal by the Strategic Planning Board.
“Secondly, even if planning permission is granted, the final approval of the National Trust – as the landowner at Tatton – is still required before proceeding with such development.
“The National Trust has been fully supportive of these proposals.”
Kim Ryley, interim chief executive, said: “We understand the public interest in this matter, and so we decided not to appeal against the Information Commissioner’s decision that we should release the previously confidential council report.
“Before doing so, we had to seek the approval of all the third party groups involved in giving expert advice on this matter, in confidence to the council.”
Save Tatton Action Group (STAG) – which has queried why the report was not released straight away – said if the development went wrong, Cheshire East would have to pick up the pieces.
A group spokesman said: “People must cut through Cheshire East’s flim-flam over conversations and transparency and focus on the fact that our elected representatives are backing a ‘theme park’ development which will be underwritten by Cheshire East residents to the tune of £6.5 million.
“Thanks to the way the planned deal is structured, Cheshire East residents will be footing the bill for the next 20 years if it all goes wrong while Tom Blofeld and his family estate will walk away unaffected.”
The planning application is currently being revised by Bure Valley, and the council said it expects to reach its planning officers in the next two months.
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