It would be an absolute tragedy if the purchase of Venture Quays by the Isle of Wight Council did not go ahead – that was the message to councillors who were urged to continue with buying the landmark East Cowes site this week.
The Isle of Wight Council has been in talks with Homes England for the last 18 months to try and buy Venture Quays and other associated land parcels, for £1 million. However, due to the current financial situation after the coronavirus pandemic, a report going to Cabinet today (Thursday), asks whether the council should take on the risk of the waterfront site.
In the report, the risks of acquiring the site and considerations the council must take are laid out — including the ‘new economic climate’, a potential but ‘likely’ recession lasting 1 to 3 years and implementing a delivery strategy.
The report says:
“Given the overall financial position of the council and the need to maintain an adequate degree of financial resilience to continue to deliver critical and essential services through the pandemic, it is important that there is reasonable surety that the acquisition of Venture Quays does not place an ongoing financial burden on the council and that the council is adequately protected against financial risk.”
Along with buying the land, building work will need to be done, costing an estimated £300,000, as well as terms and conditions set by Homes England to build houses that would need to implemented by 2024 — otherwise the site could be bought back for £1.
Despite concerns, members of the Isle of Wight Council’s Corporate Scrutiny Committee stressed the council’s buying of the site would be important for East Cowes and the marine industry on the Island and said it was good to see the council investing on the Island.
Cllr Richard Hollis said the planned Red Funnel terminal upgrade had yet to be built but what remained of the site was so valuable to the boat building industry. He said:
“It would be an absolute tragedy if this does not go ahead. Not only for the potential business rates and the investments but the people and the jobs who are contributing hugely to the Island.
“It is an absolute no brainer. Whatever we do, we must carry this through.”
Cllr Chris Quirk said this was the last of the really serious shipbuilding sites on the Island and it was imperative it remained. He said:
“If we keep it, we will keep a really good reputation for being business-friendly on the Island, with the possibility of bringing other developers back.
“The proposal for houses is on quite a large site that won’t affect the boat building at all. This is a site that has great potential.
“We need affordable housing but it is best that is mixed in with commercial housing because then you don’t get ghettos.”
Part of the council’s plans would be to provide another housing development in East Cowes, on land on Albany Road and Marsefield Road.
Council leader, Dave Stewart, said he has a positive outlook on the acquisition of the site but was mindful of advice given by council officers. He said:
“It is an interesting venue and employs at least 150, and that is 150 families, and it will be an asset acquisition.
“Certainly, we are mindful of what our officers say and they are being rightly cautious.
“What is important is that we understand the benefits, the potential of the investment which I know many people have encouraged us to do on the Island.
“Any investment we do, we have to be very aware of what the implications are.
“Personally, I am very encouraged by the work that has gone in and the potential of this particular opportunity.
“It is our decision, we will own it and we will take responsibility for it”.
The corporate scrutiny committee unanimously voted in favour of finding a strong case to move along with the purchase of this site, supporting cabinet members on Thursday to move along with the purchase of the site.
Cabinet is due to meet ‘virtually’ at 17:00 today and people can follow the meeting by clicking here.