£2.7m Brentwood football hub plan pulled as economic reality bites at council

Major investment plans – including one for a football hub – have been pulled in the face of financial pressure faced by Brentwood Borough Council.

But at a finance, assets, investments and recovery committee the council said it is still committed to the Baytree Centre.

Brentwood Council has one of the highest debts for its size – ratings agency Moody’s has said the council has a borrowing to income ratio of 9.7 given its debts of £226m. However the council has said medium term financial strategy is robust with the value of its assets far outweighing the overall debt.

However the council has said medium term financial strategy is robust with the value of its assets far outweighing the overall debt.

According to the statement of accounts 2022/23 the council has assets to the value of £514m. The council has said it “manages its liquidity position through its cash flow management procedures”.

But the council heard that the council has to acknowledged a change in the economic environment – and could no longer support earmarked funds of £2.8m for a football hub and £18m to pump-prime development activity within Brentwood borough.

A new football hub that councillors had agreed to spend nearly £3 million on had been due to open at the end of 2024.

A business plan for the hub, which was set to be built in the Brentwood Centre, was agreed by the council in December 2022.

The hub, set to have six pitches and be used by more than 100 local teams including Brentwood Town FC, would have included three third generation artificial grass pitches and four grass pitches.

But the council heard it could no longer “stack up” the plans initially designed to support football development in the town.

According to a council report, there are five main clubs in Brentwood, which have a total of 157 teams, within a three-mile radius of the Brentwood Centre.

Of these teams there are 61 mini-soccer teams, 80 youth teams, 14 adult teams and two disability teams. The report says this demonstrates local demand for the new facilities.

Brentwood Town FC’s first team is already using the site, while its reserves are using the club’s stadia pitch.

A regeneration fund had been agreed in February 2022 to provide targeted social purpose investment using prudential borrowing to kick start regeneration and help to bring forward projects that produce new homes or other economic benefits.

Councillor Gareth Barrett, (Lab, Brentwood South) who is part of the joint administration group, said: “We’re looking to invest in schemes that are based on reality not based on fantasy and optimism.

“The financial investments made when the conservative group were leaving the council myself and my group supported I think pretty much across the board. We looked at the figures saw they added up and supported them. And my attitude to that does not change.

“At the same time when we have funding the football hub was a great concept but just doesn’t stack up, the regeneration funds are nice to have but in reality doesn’t stack up.”

“So we have to be prudent and appropriate and we have to reflect the economic environment we’re in.”

However, he said the Baytree Tree centre development consisting of a new four-screen cinema, likely to be occupied by an Everyman-style operator, a new public area for retail and leisure use and space for new restaurants and bars remains a commitment.

He added: “At the same time while I’m a member of the administration without question a cinema will be developed, will be delivered within the Baytree development while we exist as an administration. That is a red line and that will not be removed full stop.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter

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