COUNCIL chiefs could spend £12.9 million over the next two years on commercial investments to regenerate the borough and boost its coffers.

The figure has been ringfenced in the upcoming budget for Cheshire West and Chester Council, which is due to be approved by full council on February 21.

It comes as local authorities across the country have spent millions of pounds on investment properties – located either inside or outside their own boroughs – to rake in cash that can be spent on front-line services.

At a scrutiny meeting on Monday where the budget was considered, Cllr Ben Powell, Labour, called on the authority to be cautious in its approach to investment.

He said: “I don’t want us to own a shopping centre in Milton Keynes when we can be doing something that benefits our residents.

“I remember way back we were asked to make decisions about Barons Quay – which is a really great scheme in a really great town [Northwich].

Northwich Guardian:

“But the finances, because of the changes in the way retail has gone, have not gone the way that was planned at the time.

“And that is why I think we ought to really push when we look into these things, particularly around something as unpredictable as retail.”

In a report presented at the meeting, the council confirmed its commercial investments over the next two years include £1 million on Winsford’s regeneration and almost £12 million on Northgate.

Cllr Samantha Dixon, leader of CWAC, moved to reassure Cllr Powell that major investments would be brought to cabinet or full council for approval – and the decisions could be ‘called in’ for further scrutiny.

"Instinctively there is a feeling that the Cheshire West pound should be spent in Cheshire West,” she added.

A report presented to the scrutiny committee stated that CWAC will put caps on the level of risk the council would be exposed to with commercial investments.

Cllr David Armstrong, cabinet member for legal and finance, added: “If there are good, prudent things to be looked at outside of this borough then I am sure they will be looked at, but great caution has been shown here and certainly no one is suggesting we should overstretch in any way.

Northwich Guardian:

“Within the last four years we have not made any investments outside of this borough of a significant nature, or borrowed from the public works loan board.

“We have invested heavily within the borough and one of the very positive things we have had regarding getting control of the centre of Winsford is in fact the returns on that are paying the loan charges already – it was a very prudent investment.”

The Winsford councillor added that cross-party working groups for regeneration in Northwich, Winsford, Ellesmere Port and Chester was helping provide security for businesses by preventing the schemes becoming a ‘football’ between Labour and the Conservatives.

Cllr Sam Naylor, Labour, added: “We want all our towns to be a success and I think Northwich is a good example of councillors from both parties working together for the good of the town, and that is what we have got to do.”