Mayor’s “bold” investment plan for Borough criticised as “reckless” borrowing

Cllr Jane Walker, Cllr Phillipa Martin-Moran-Bryant, Cllr Robert Rigby, Cllr Graeme Coombes, Cllr Jim Weir, Mayor Tom Wootton, Cllr Martin Towler, Cllr Sarah Gallagher and Cllr Andrea Spice.
Council Executive: Cllr Jane Walker, Cllr Phillipa Martin-Moran-Bryant, Cllr Robert Rigby, Cllr Graeme Coombes, Cllr Jim Weir, Mayor Tom Wootton, Cllr Martin Towler, Cllr Sarah Gallagher and Cllr Andrea Spice. Image: Bedford Borough Council

Bedford Borough’s Conservative council has agreed a funding package to secure new roads, GP surgeries, improved leisure facilities and a new primary school.

The investment plans have been described by the Mayor’s office as “bold”, but opposition councillors have said they are concerned about the levels of borrowing that will be incurred, with one councillor describing the decision as “a reckless spending spree”.

In a statement, the Mayor’s office said: “We know healthcare is vitally important to our residents and that Bedford Borough has lagged behind other regions.

“That’s why the new Conservative Council has agreed a funding package which will secure a GP Surgery in the Wixams, a new Health Hub in Kempston and Primary Care Services in Great Barford.

“Much needed, overdue and on the way.”

Additionally, the investment would see:

  • state-of-the-art leisure villages and modernisation of neglected facilities
  • a much-needed development package to breath new life into the town centre
  • a large funding contribution to build the Prebend Street Relief Road to ease gridlock
  • investment to see the Bedford to Milton Keynes Waterway Canal Link delivered
  • a new primary school in Sharnbrook
  • a funding package to ensure the Paula Radcliffe Way Highway corridor remains a safe route through the Borough

The Mayor’s office said: “The residents of the Borough put their trust in us to deliver change, and we are. Our ambitious Capital Program represents a bold new direction for Bedford, our best days are coming.”

Martin Towler, portfolio holder for health, public health and wellbeing said: “This is really positive and fantastic news for the residents of Bedford Borough who have suffered for years as the Borough slipped into the top ten worst areas for patients per GP.

He promised that all projects would be delivered on time over the next four years.

Clapham Cars

However, opposition councillors voiced their concerns about the burden that borrowing £53m would have on the future of the borough.

“Bedford Borough Labour Group of course welcomes these promises, and hopes to see them delivered,” said a Labour Group spokesperson.

“However, we are very concerned about the level of borrowing and the future impact it will have when the authority has to pay back that borrowing with huge amounts of interest.

“If their Conservative Government had funded local authorities sufficiently over the past 13 years rather than inflicting austerity and abandoning infrastructure, these projects could have been progressed long ago without leaving the council and residents saddled with more debt in future as is the case now.

We hope these decisions have been taken with care and sound advice, and have not been taken for short-term popularity as we run up to a General Election.”

Former portfolio holder for town centres, Cllr Henry Vann (Lib Dems, De Parys) described the plans as a “reckless spending spree, using borrowed money.”

“It is not difficult to spend money if you have no regard to where it is coming from and how it is going to be paid back and this announcement adds over £53 million to council borrowing: A Liz Truss style approach to budgeting,” he said.

“This borrowing is the equivalent of over £280 for every adult and child in the Borough – and  taxpayers will have to pay back every pound of that plus interest in years to come.”

He said that at a cost of £5m a year, the cost of borrowing would threaten an extra £5m of cuts in years to come.

“Let’s be crystal clear – this uncontrolled spending spree will mean deeper cuts to services for residents.”

Bedford’s Green councillors shared concerns over the neglect of public transport and cycle networks in favour of building new roads.

Cllr Ben Foley (Green, Greyfriars) said: “Spending money on a ‘Prebend Street Relief Road’ will not bring the claimed benefits.

“We were told when the western bypass was built that it would end this congestion. It didn’t happen then, and it won’t happen now. The truth is that every road-building scheme generates new traffic that fills up the capacity built. It is a well-known phenomenon called ‘induced traffic’.

“Attracting extra traffic to use Ashburnham Road will just make things worse for local residents. What is really needed is good public transport, good pavements and a good cycle network.

“Similarly, building GP surgery buildings will not help anyone, so long as the Conservative government takes actions that mean there aren’t GPs to work in them.

“With a General Election in the air, the Conservative Mayor and his minority administration plan to waste a lot of money that could be much better spent.”