Posted: 04.09.20 at 06:00 by The Editor
ON Tuesday, columnist Cllr David Cavill put his views on why Trowbridge Town Council has such a large debt.
Now here is an opposite view which comes from Cllr Antonio Piazza, a campaigner for halting the debt.
Trowbridge Nub News has been giving a lot of airtime over the months to this matter. As such, this column from Cllr Piazza will be the last time we will publish a long explanation of any side opposing or supporting the Town Council's debt.
Trowbridge Nub News is here to report the news and sport around Trowbridge and our communities.
Future stories on this subject will be published only if there is a change in circumstances concerning the debt at the Town Council or something important to report about it.
Here is Cllr Piazza's opinion
TROWBRIDGE Town Council has the highest parish debt in England, Scotland and Wales. Yes, you just read that correctly.
We have the highest parish debt in Great Britain. So, how exactly did we get to this point? Well, the councillors on Trowbridge Town Council approved the borrowing of loans to fund several projects, with officers’ recommendations.
The first of these major loans is with the Civic Centre. The refurbishment of the Civic Centre required the council to borrow £5million over a huge 50-year period, with an average interest rate of 4.659 per cent, giving the Trowbridge taxpayer a total repayment of £12,957,753.
I have a real problem understanding why they thought spreading debt over 50 years was a good idea – to use a famous quote 'the earth belongs to the living and not to the dead'. We have generations of unborn children who will be paying off a project that they had zero say over. To me, it’s fundamentally wrong.
The next loan was the freehold purchase of Woodmarsh Football Ground. This is a brilliant example of a loan done well. Although it’s £175,000 over a 30-year period, the loan does not come out of the Trowbridge taxpayer’s pocket because Trowbridge Town Football Club rent the facility and fund the repayment of the loan.
The third loan was for Trowbridge Museum. I’ve lived in Trowbridge all my life and have fond memories of going there when I was little. However, there is an argument to be had on borrowing £900,000 on a leasehold building.
The lease itself will have to be renewed before the loan expires. I know officers have reassured us that we have security and rights to renewal, but if The Shires is sold or redeveloped in that time then we’re in a very difficult position.
There’s also an argument to be had on having the Trowbridge taxpayer (Band D) contribute £14 a year towards Trowbridge Museum, which is roughly the same amount that the Hilperton taxpayer contributes to fund the entirety of Hilperton parish.
A Hilperton resident pays £14.28 every year whereas a Trowbridge resident contributes £164.98 in total (with, aforementioned, £14 of that amount going towards the Museum).
I love the Museum but someone has to step-up and have this debate on how we can make best use of it and mitigate cost of the loan and Museum itself, whilst also supporting Trowbridge Museum all the way.
Our final loan is for the provision of a new storage facility in the Park (the Park Storage Unit).
I’ve had so many negative responses on this one, with the funniest being residents calling it an ‘expensive fancy shed’. Trowbridge Town Council have borrowed £300,000 over a 30-year period with total repayments being £424,260.60.
However, there are also contributions from the developer to mitigate the construction of the flats in the park. This is important to help deliver the infrastructure needed to support development in the area.
In short, that money belongs to the ordinary and hard-working Trowbridge resident. The total cost of this entire project over a period is £508,802.
We’re also currently in discussions to borrow even more money (yes more!). The Doric Park Project will require us to borrow £2m for a 3G football pitch. I love football but this pitch won’t be in the Trowbridge parish and is partly a business venture.
This is Trowbridge Town Council stepping in to underwrite a capital project, as if the projected income does not materialise, the liability sits with the council, essentially meaning that the council will increase the Council Tax precept if it all goes wrong with the residents of Trowbridge having to pick up the bill.
However, giving the council credit where credit is due, the FA has provided a grant and that shows they think it is potentially viable. Although councillors need to be presented with more information, such as multiple guaranteed income streams before making an informed decision.
The loan would be for a 30-year period also, which has me very worried. I’m also not keen on investing in a project outside Trowbridge – it just seems a bit bonkers to me.
So now that’s all the loans discussed, how should you respond as a Trowbridge resident?
Well, you should know how much in Council Tax precept you contribute towards paying off this monstrous debt. Since 2014/15 there has been a sharp 35 per cent increase in our Council Tax precept – this rate is massively above the inflation rate. You can see the contributions you make to Trowbridge Town Council on the breakdown of your Council Tax bill. You should also take notice of the increase each and every year.
The Trowbridge taxpayer currently contributes roughly one-fifth of their Council Tax precept to paying off this huge debt.
The 2021/22 interest charge is £435,960, including £102,291 for Doric Park. Total precept income in 2021/22 is forecast to be £2,076,611 so 21 per cent of the precept.
I also have to add, councillors aren’t informed enough to look at these reports and make these decisions. It’s just simply not right. If we are talking about taking on thirty and fifty-year debts, then the person approving the loan needs to be qualified and experienced.
Councillors are given the bare minimum in terms of information and I don’t believe there’s any real scrutiny to decisions.
The way going forward requires immediate action. We need to slam the brakes and stop the debt.
I am not against investing in Trowbridge, but we need to re-evaluate how we approve these loans. A lot of these loans received little to no permission in form of public consultation by the electorate, the residents of Trowbridge.
Trowbridge Nub News recently published an article with local MP, Dr Andrew Murrison. I have been in discussion with Andrew and Philip Whitehead (Leader of Wiltshire Council).
Last week, I received a letter from Simon Clark MP who is Minister for Regional Growth and Local Government stating: “Whilst the department requests this evidence in order to approve borrowing applications, the relevant parish or town council is ultimately accountable to the electorate for the decisions that it takes.’
Therefore, the solution going forward lies with the residents of Trowbridge. The fault lies with councillors who should be reaching out more to residents.