Questions over the performance of Banbury’s council-owned shopping centre turned tribal this week with claims that a political group is “denigrating” the town.
Councillor Ian Middleton (Green, Kidlington East) insisted “it was not gratifying” to see his predictions that Castle Quay’s revenue would not reach the amount that was originally forecast in the budget by Cherwell District Council come to be.
He quoted a £4.3 million drop, including a £1 million in-year cash injection “to fill the hole in the operational budget”, a “downgrade” of expected profit of £1.4 million and £1.9 million of expected growth in 2023/24 that is now not expected to materialise.
“The current forecast is probably more realistic than it was last year when I said that the expectation the centre would break even was very unlikely. It was not gratifying but interesting that I was proved right,” he said.
Councillor Middleton went on to say that Castle Quay was now valued at £15.4 million “against the £68 million that was paid for it at the time” and that the waterfront development, which cost £66 million, was “now worth £32 million”.
“Together, that is a total asset devaluation of £87 million,” he said. “That is simply staggering and cannot be blamed on outside factors.
“The council was irresponsible and naive in its dealings with the previous owners, and now council taxpayers are at risk, as a result, with a direct impact on the budget.
“We need to be seen to take this a lot more seriously than the ruling group has over the years. We cannot brush this away, as I am sure members opposite will try to do.”
Councillor Middleton is the deputy leader of the Progressive Oxfordshire Group, made up of Liberal Democrat, Green and independent councillors. It acts as the official opposition at the Conservative-run council, but there was criticism of their stance from the Labour ranks.
Councillor Andrew Beere (Lab, Banbury Grimsbury & Hightown) said: “I think I’m not the only councillor here who has become aware that there are forces within this council that have got it in for Banbury. I’ll be blunt; we know where they are emanating from.
“I’m profoundly sad at comments coming from what I would call the Progressive perfectionists and their line on denigrating Banbury. Banbury needs shops, Banbury needs development, Banbury needs services.”
Leader Councillor Barry Wood (Con, Fringford & Heyfords) argued that “constant undermining of things that are going well in Banbury” is “not right and not appropriate”.
“Councillor Middleton has had a hobby horse for as long as I can remember about denigrating the Castle Quay scheme, saying how bad and poor it was, how badly it was researched and how all these predictions are sure to come true, I’ve lost count of how many times I have heard it,” he said.
“The actuality is that these statements are hobby horse rubbish. He seeks to denigrate the scheme, and he seeks to denigrate Banbury. Banbury needed that investment to make it a destination, not just a place where people went to the shops.”
Councillor Adam Nell (Con, Adderbury, Bloxham & Bodicote), the district’s portfolio holder for finance, said: “I don’t recognise the figures he (Councillor Middleton) gave us.
“All shopping centres around the country have suffered with the same things which have come from national and international events over which this council has no control.
“The alternative would have been to allow Banbury town centre to collapse with no shops and no services. All members of the council who voted for the Castle Quay initiative should congratulate themselves on having saved Banbury town centre.”