ARCH: Expansion has gone too far

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Following a letter by a Labour election candidate commenting on the Conservative position on Arch, I would like to clarify our position for readers, (Northumberland Gazette, March 16).

Arch is the regeneration arm of the county council, whose purpose is to invest in council supported projects, originally to support the local economy. It has only one shareholder, Northumberland County Council, and its board includes me, together with four Labour councillors – Grant Davey, Dave Ledger, Gordon Webb and Alan Hepple – and one Lib Dem, Jeff Reid, ensuring that I and Jeff can be outvoted politically.

Arch borrows money from the council and is solely financed by the county council, meaning any funds at risk are taxpayers’ money.

Northumberland Conservatives initially had a cautious acceptance of this model, but this has since been overshadowed by the grotesque expansion of Arch into a company competing with the private sector in a commercial world, with the advantage of cheap loans from the Government that council taxpayers are liable for if it all goes wrong.

Examples of going too far are the recent needless purchase of Manor Walks Shopping Centre for £120million and the purchase of many property assets outside of our county in places such as Stockton and Durham, which is why I opposed the Labour budget seeking another £450million for Arch this year.

It is becoming a massive property empire, spending money where it hopes to make more, as directed by Labour politicians, instead of fostering new businesses and new jobs within our county.

There is no plan to repay the hundreds of millions of borrowed money, with huge risks to our county’s future finances. A Labour council playing a high stakes poker game with public money?

Conservatives will replace Arch with a new Northumberland Development Company that will respond more accountably to community needs and help regenerate the private sector, not compete with it supported by a public sector debt mountain.

One area that badly needs sorting out is the lack of rented housing at council house rates. The council would establish in-house where these housing needs were and the development company would build them, using cheaply sourced Government money. The council owns land that could and should be used for this purpose.

Finally, no tenants in properties owned by Arch have anything to worry about, any more than Homes for Northumberland tenants did when the council took back control of HFN council housing – this is just scaremongering.

It is about getting our county on its feet without adding piles more debt to the £1.4billion, or £10,000 for every house in the county, that this Labour council has run up already.

We should be spending our scarce resources on essential services, such as better social care, not on millions on interest in this enormous pile of debt.

Peter Jackson,

Leader of Northumberland Conservatives