Councillors want more plan details

Coun Keith Fisher
Coun Keith Fisher

COUNCILLORS have called for more details before committing to a major regeneration plan.

The Mill House Masterplan aims to bring new housing, community, business and leisure developments and the expansion of Hartlepool United’s Victoria Park ground.

The plan could see the ground, owned by Hartlepool Borough Council and valued at £625,000, transferred to the club for free as part of the wider regeneration plans.

Councillors were due to vote at a full council meeting next week, but that has been postponed.

It follows a members’ seminar on Monday which featured presentations from Russ Green, Pools’ chief executive and Daniel Robinson, chairman of the developers Gus Robinson Developments.

Senior councillors say there is support for the proposals, but want to see more details on the finances.

Labour group leader Christopher Akers-Belcher, who is chairman of the audit committee, said under the Local Government Act, if the value of the whole Mill House Masterplan site exceeds £2m, the council would need the consent of the Secretary of State to dispose of the land.

Ultimately it will be a decision for full council and a report outlining the site’s value will go to next month’s audit committee.

Coun Akers-Belcher said the Labour Party has not formed a concrete view regarding the ground transfer.

He added: “We want to abide by the law with regard to the disposal of the land and we need to have a look at the economic, social and environmental contribution that such a transfer would give to the people of Hartlepool.

“The masterplan is a fantastic vision, but the devil is in the detail.

“First and foremost we need to safeguard Hartlepool.”

Conservative group leader Ray Wells said: “The Conservative group fully supports these ambitious plans, but in light of the current financial position would question the true viability of the overall scheme.

“With regard to gifting Victoria Park to Hartlepool United, we have not seen any evidence that would suggest this could be the only route as to the club owning their ground.

“It has been brought to our group’s attention that there could potentially be legal reasons to prevent the authority simply gifting a valuable community asset for no monetary compensation.”

He added the Conservative group supported the club owning their own ground, but said members had a responsibility to give “best value” to town residents.

Councillor Geoff Lilley, group leader of Putting Hartlepool First, said he failed to see why transferring the ground was a key part of the deal.

He added: “If there are firm guarantees that the level of proposed development takes place then it would be worth passing the land on, if we get all that is promised.

“This is an asset of the people of Hartlepool and we need to make sure the financial situation is on solid ground throughout the process.”

A council spokesman said: “The extraordinary council meeting scheduled for June 28 to consider the Mill House masterplan proposals and potential sale of Victoria Park will not now go ahead.

“Councillors feel that more work needs to be done prior to the proposals being considered by the full council.”

No date has yet been set.

The masterplan includes proposals for a new 3,000-seat stand at Victoria Park’s away end, new park, swimming pool and sports hall.

It also aims to deal with the derelict Odeon cinema which could be turned into student accommodation.