A MASSIVE sale of council property worth £200m could help pay for a new theatre for Chester, says council leader Mike Jones.
Assets including 32 retail units and 5,000 acres of farmland will be auctioned off by Cheshire West and Chester Council to fund road repairs and improve leisure and sports facilities by 2020, in a bid to restore Victorian-style civic pride to the city.
Of the £200m, £100m would be used for road repairs and £100m to improve sports and leisure facilities across the borough - with many more millions anticipated from private investors.
Council leader Mike Jones said: “We’ve inherited a huge backlog of tired assets in which there’s been significant under investment over 20-30 years by governments and councils of all colours.
“Do we sit back and say we can’t do anything, we’ve got to wait for money – or do we create a place where people are proud to live?”
Cllr Jones said the council is committed to providing Chester with a theatre and the money raised is likely to help finally achieve that dream.
He added: “We've got a bucket of money which we can identify and out of that we've got a series of projects. The residents have told us their priorities and we have got to deliver them.
“A theatre is one of the prime priorities.”
The council is still trying to secure lottery and government funding for the project but Cllr Jones stresses many other facilities are in desperate need of updating.
“The Northgate Arena was built with the wrong type of concrete and will need £15m to redo part of it.
“We have 56 mobile classrooms where children freeze in the Winter and are boiling in the Summer.
“Everyone is quite rightly complaining about the roads. The pot holes were not caused by frost, they were caused by a lack of investment.”
Cllr Jones says that the money to pay for the work can come from £100m of borrowing, £100m from the private sector and grants and £200m from asset sales while the remainder comes from council tax rises kept below the rate of inflation.
The council has spent 12 months coming up with the plans and will put them to public consultation by the beginning of July.
Cllr Jones added: “Is this what we want or do we want to not invest and use council tax?
“I feel the residents would like to see facilities for their young people to use, schools put right, the roads to be repaired, leisure centres to be fit for purpose. The money doesn’t come from nowhere.
“It’s what the Victorians did. They had that energy and civic pride.
“Why are we running retail units and business parks when the private sector are very good at doing that?
“We need to make sure we get best value so some of the sales will be towards the end of the 10 years.”
Cllr Jones says that while a new theatre is still “urgent” and would feature as part of the capital works programme, the council may take longer to fix the roads.
He added: “We are going to make bold decisions to really improve the lives of our residents. We’re not going to sit back like previous councils because some people don’t like it.
“Why don’t we just take control of our own destiny?”