Hartlepool Labour councillors call for rethink over plan to spend public millions on privately owned town centre eyesore
Labour councillors have expressed “significant reservations” about public money being used to improve Hartlepool’s derelict Wesley chapel as part of a £25m regeneration project.
The redevelopment of the Wesley in Victoria Road, which has become an eyesore after a serious fire in December 2017, is one of a number of projects included in the Town Deal project which Hartlepool has been awarded government funding for.
But while supporting the overall plan, the Labour Group on Hartlepool Borough Council has expressed concerns about the privately owned Wesley receiving public funds – arguing there will be no direct return on investment for the public.
It has written to the chair of the Town Deal Board, Alby Pattison, calling for a rethink.
But Mr Pattison said the Wesley is “integral” to the board’s plan of revitalising the heart of the town centre.
Labour leader, Councillor Brenda Harrison, said: “On the Wesley we have asked that this be negotiated and altered to ensure that the public gets something in return for this substantial investment.”
Labour Group deputy leader Cllr Jonathan Brash, added: "We recognise that this building has an important place in our cultural heritage and that its current derelict state is an eyesore at the heart of our town, but that does not mean the public should be asked to fund the future profits of a private company.”
Mr Pattison said restoring and bringing the building back into use is not economically viable for the Wesley’s owners, Jomast, so it needs public sector funding to stimulate the process and attract private investment.
He said: “If we are to revitalise the heart of the town centre, bringing financial benefits, local jobs and social value, the former Wesley Chapel is integral to our vision.
“Indeed, using public money to ‘unlock’ sites like this – which would otherwise remain vacant and derelict – is one of the ways the Government sees Town Fund money being used.
“We very much understand and appreciate the concerns expressed.
"We too are concerned to ensure that we get a good return on any public funds invested and I would reassure people that over the coming months, through the development of full business cases, we will be rigorously testing the viability of the Wesley Chapel investment and all the Town Deal projects.”