Chelmsford Council ring-fences £60m spend over next four years

Plans for more than £60million of investments in Chelmsford have been laid out over the next four years – including millions to be pumped into commercial property and efforts to tackle homelessness.

The proposals are set to be agreed at next week’s full council session on February 26, when Chelmsford Council’s portion of council tax is also due to be set at £199 for an average annual Band D household – an increase of £4.98 on last year.

The capital investments include a pot of £10million to be invested in commercial property ventures, which is set to make up almost half of the £23.3million that Chelmsford City Council has ring fenced for this 2020/21 year – taking advantage of continuing low interest rates.

Another £2million has been allocated to reclad the original part of Riverside Leisure Centre, a cost that was not included in the construction costs of the new leisure centre.

It means that the final cost of the scheme could reach £42million – despite initial estimates of £25million.

More than £10million is being allocated to tackle the housing problems in Chelmsford – the city has about 270 homeless families – including through the purchase of 20 properties to be used as temporary accommodation.

This sum will grow by more than £5.5million over the next three years.

Leader of Chelmsford City Council, Cllr Stephen Robinson, said: “If we can get people out of nightly lets into proper housing we will save revenue.

“In financial terms this is to invest to save and in social terms it addresses an important social problem.”

Chelmsford City Council is also supporting what is hoped to be a cost neutral scheme to provide 970 homes in Chelmer Waterside on the site of the former gas works, after it was awarded up to £10.7million from the government’s Housing Infrastructure Fund.

However, how much gets invested depends on ongoing discussions with Homes England, Cllr Robinson said.

He added: “Our ambition is to deliver housing on that site but exactly how much and the layout depends on a whole range of things.

“Broadly the ambition is it should be at nil cost to the council.”

This grant has been awarded to deliver a new access road and bridge over the River Chelmer and the relocation of a gas pressure reduction system and high-pressure gas mains.

Along with £4.8million of developer contributions yet to be approved, the total investment amounts to £15.5million between 2019 and 2022.

The council is also spending £1.5million on improving the High Chelmer shopping centre roof between 2021 and 2023, while as much as £4.4million is to be spent on a mass tree planting and woodland creation.

It could spend £6.8million on the cemetery and crematorium infrastructure.

The Chelmsford Council planned spend on the cemetery has increased  for the beginning of 2019, when it was looking to spend almost £2million for a new city cemetery, after admitting its main burial site at Writtle Road will be full by 2026.

However, the investment will not just find new space but improve its carbon footprint  – it wants to be carbon neutral by 2030 through improved energy efficiency and potentially using energy less reliant on carbon fuels.

Consideration will be given to incorporating the latest technologies and emerging “alternative methods of treatment and disposal of human remains” in the new facility.

Cllr Robinson said: “Human composting is being tried out by some authorities.”

Chelmsford Council has said that given continuing low interest rates it is proposed that a budget for strategic property acquisitions is created, worth £10million.

Specifically Cllr Robinson wants the money to generate jobs.

He said: “Anything we buy directly will be only in the Chelmsford district.

“Because we don’t want to be a speculative landlord. We want to invest in the growth of Chelmsford.

“The local plan has to be driven much more by jobs not by housing.

“We really ought to be speaking to facilitate the creation of as many, if not more, jobs than houses.”

He said that is “explicitly” the council’s objective for a garden village of around 3,000 houses in north east Chelmsford in the new local plan.

“Therefore we want at least 3,000 jobs in the garden village,” he added.

Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter