March regeneration project put on hold

EVIDENCE that March has become the poor relation of council spending in the past 25 years was partly behind a senior councillor s proposal to contribute £200,000 towards a massive Gateway regeneration project. But the strategy of Councillor Peter Skoul

EVIDENCE that March has become the poor relation of council spending in the past 25 years was partly behind a senior councillor's proposal to contribute £200,000 towards a massive 'Gateway' regeneration project.

But the strategy of Councillor Peter Skoulding to use his influence as Fenland's portfolio holder for finance was scuppered in a late move by councillors from the rest of Fenland.

Their anger at seeing March top the list of favoured projects for the bulk of a £300,000 capital projects surplus this year, meant Council Leader Geoff Harper had no option but to pull a recommendation from last Thursday's Cabinet meeting.

Cllr Skoulding was taken aback by the level of opposition to his proposals, and stoically defended the 'Gateway to March' scheme which could have kick-started major improvements to the verges and footpaths along Wisbech Road.

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But his colleagues were having none of it, and now Cllr Skoulding, who has also been wearing his hat as a major player in the March Regeneration forum, must go back to basics to convince colleagues his proposals have merit.

And what looked like a rubber stamping exercise last Thursday , was defeated by pressure put on Cllr Harper to debate the matter internally with his colleagues privately before bring any recommendations back to Cabinet.

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Cllr Skoulding is unbowed and produced figures which shows that spend per head in March on capital projects for the past 25 years has been just £438, compared to £774 in Wisbech and £578 per head in Chatteris. Only Whittlesey , on £318, is lower.

And Cllr Skoulding feels March's case is made even stronger by the realisation that a significant part of capital spending in the town has been on Fenland Hall - which serves the whole community.

Cllr Skoulding told Cabinet that any schemes identified now "will have to go into next year."

Cllr Harper added: "This is to do with the surplus we have and, obviously, there is a debate as to how to dispose of it."

Over the weekend, many councillors contacted each, expressing the view that whilst March may have a case, it was essential all members got the chance to debate it.

"If this had slipped through Cabinet as it was planned, then it would have become the council policy and nothing could have stopped it," one councillor said this week,

"There are 11 or 12 district councillors who are also county councillors and no way would members from the county spend money like this without proper debate. The portfolio holder for finance jumped the gun and should have gone to group first."

The councillor added: "If the council's treasurer identifies spare money, then no member has the right to seize on it and spend it on this particular scheme. I don't necessarily disagree with it in principle, I just don't like the way we have been bounced into it.

"This paper should never have been published other than as a consultative document- which it clearly wasn't.

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