Delays to some of the big housing schemes planned for Brighton and Hove are costing local taxpayers millions of pounds, according to a councillor.
Robert Nemeth, who represents Wish Ward on Brighton and Hove City Council, set out his concerns at the annual budget meeting on Thursday (22 February).
The Conservative opposition councillor spelt out the opportunity cost – or lost council tax revenue – that resulted from delays to long-planned projects.
Councillor Nemeth said: “I’d like to use my brief time to raise concerns about the delays that the city is experiencing under Labour with regard to major projects locally, and to put the delays into a financial context.
“Members know that I take a particular interest in King Alfred but my comments apply equally to King’s House and Circus Street, which Councillor Geoffrey Theobald and I have raised many times in the past.
“The argument is straightforward. Every day, week, month or year of delay with any tax-raising project increases officer costs and reduces tax yield.
“Delays damage the local economy and reduce the quality of precious public services.
“In the case of the proposed King Alfred, with approximately 600 flats and a number of business units, we are missing out on a tax yield in the region of £1 million annually.
“This is over twice the amount that the Conservative group has bargained from Labour for youth services – a quite staggering sum that would make a huge difference to the budget – every year.
“In the case of King’s House, potentially with 172 flats, we’re missing out on something like £300,000 annually.
“Every month of no progress is costing us £25,000 – an amount equivalent to the complete refurbishment of Hove Lagoon which is close to my own heart.
“‘Why is Labour responsible?’ is a fair question. These projects take time after all – and these are uncertain times.
“The answer is a fundamental misunderstanding of a ruthless private sector. The administration has blindly tried to adopt a right-wing approach across all policy areas with regard to its links with the private sector. But the pitfalls do not seem to have been understood.
“At the King Alfred, where we should be seeing efficiency, expertise and creative flair, we are getting the worst of all worlds – a multimillion-pound bail-out from central government and still no contract signed.
“At King’s House, we saw a sale agreed with no deposit taken. It collapsed at a cost to the council of hundreds of thousands of pounds. At Circus Street, losses are now in the millions.
“If this right-wing approach is to continue, the private sector must be harnessed for the good that it can do, rather than it profiteering from us.
“Corporations are currently running rings around us and costing us millions.
“If we are going to pick partners for future projects, it must be on our terms, with defined start times, hefty deposits and penalties for non-delivery.
“As it stands, we are unwittingly aiding in the practice of land-banking, paying out for maintenance costs and missing out on council tax and business rates.
“This situation is self-made and completely unacceptable.”