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Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Battle for marina vision continues

SUPPORTERS say it will reinvigorate the town and usher in a new era of economic and social prosperity to a place desperate for growth.

Pidduck head
DAVE PIDDUCK

Critics believe it has the potential to become an expensive white elephant in which the council pours good money after bad.

But whatever your views on the proposed £200m redevelopment of Barrow’s waterfront, no one can dispute the fact progress has been slow.

The ambitious project is yet another innocent victim of the global financial crisis and subsequent severe austerity measures.

What was once a venture quickly gathering pace has now become mired in a fight for scraps of central government funding.

Achieving the grand plan for 650 new homes, a 400-berth marina, a thriving square with hotels, bars and restaurant and a business centre creating 1,500 job seems as far away as ever.

That is not to say progress has completely stalled, but as Barrow Borough Council leader Dave Pidduck concedes, it is in frustratingly small increments and not in leaps and bounds.

“We are still acquiring land and we’re very close to completing that, but unfortunately the residents of the borough can’t see that,” he said.

“What they want to see is a bulldozer on the site, however, that’s not going to happen for a while and that’s partly because of the situation the government faces with the deficit.

“But from our point of view the work is still going on – albeit slowly.”

Cllr Pidduck has been one of the council’s most ardent supporters of the waterfront plan despite the difficulties it has faced in recent years.

So why when the cash-strapped council is under so much fiscal pressure to maintain even basic services that it has drastically reduced its workforce is the belief still there?

“The marina is one of our main policies,” Cllr Pidduck said. “It’s a project that we’ve said we’re determined to proceed with and it’s part and parcel of our administration.

“The obvious benefit is that it will change the social aspect of the town,” he said. “I remember a couple of years ago we had some consultants who came right at the initial start of the process and they were explaining how the town itself will change as a result of the marina.”

What Cllr Pidduck and others on the council do not want to see is fiscal constraints forcing the bean counters to compromise their vision.

“The risk would be if somebody decided to say ‘Well, OK, we’ll put the marina bit to one side for a while and we’ll build the estate,” he said.

“Now, as far as we’re concerned, that would be wrong because it is about a marina – not another housing estate.

“We don’t want to simply wind up with another Holbeck or another Hawcoat by the dock – we want a marina village.”

Given the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne’s autumn statement extending austerity for the foreseeable future, the prospect of the council receiving a significant grant for the waterfront project in 2013 appears slim.

But short of that, Cllr Pidduck believes there is some solid progress for the council to make in the next 12 months.

He said: “I think, realistically, I would hope that we’ve completed all our acquisitions and if the harbour revision order is in place then I’d be happier still.”

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