Last month it was revealed East Riding of Yorkshire Council (ERYC) had a £16.5 million underspend in its budget. At the time I commended the council for making those savings, however my concern was this money would be frittered away on vanity projects. Many roads in the county are crumbling, and the council said £3.3 million would be invested in highway maintenance. This is what the council leader, Stephen Parnaby said at the time:
Road maintenance remains a significant pressure because of the size of the network in the East Riding and the continuing impact of the severe winter weather in recent years.
It is also one of the top priorities identified by our residents through budget consultations and it is good that the council can respond so positively as a result of prudent financial management.
Prioritising highways maintenance is not new and we have already put in considerable additional funds over and above normal budgets to carry out essential repair work.
Last week ERYC announced a £2.5 million makeover of Saturday Market in Beverley. To give you some background information, as the name suggests, a market occurs there every Saturday, however for the other six days of the week, Saturday Market is a much needed car park in the town centre. Anyone who either shops or parks there will tell you as soon as it starts raining, puddles start forming, so clearly some form of maintenance is needed, however £2.5 million is an enormous amount of money to resurface a market place.
What the council intends to do is rip-up a cobbled area (which has already attracted fierce opposition), widen pavements, and create a pedestrianised area around the Market Cross. To the best of my knowledge, no-one has asked ERYC to do this. The cobbles can be awkward to walk on, but they do give the area an authentic feel, and they are part of the town’s history.
Leaving aside the fact I don’t think Saturday Market warrants a £2.5 million transformation, the question being asked is: where is the money coming from? The answer: from the Highways Maintenance Budget. Instead of using the money to repair potholes and resurface damaged roads, ERYC has decided to transfer £2.5 million to another capital project, leaving £800,000 to be spent on repairing roads elsewhere in the county. As you can imagine, this hasn’t gone down well. The Mayor of Market Weighton, Peter Hemmerman sent this message to Cllr Parnaby:
I would like to challenge Councillor Parnaby to come and explain to the residents of Market Weighton, Pocklington, Stamford Bridge, Driffield and all the surrounding parishes why this should take priority over essential maintenance of their streets.
I too would like Cllr Parnaby to answer that question, and also ask him how he can transfer money set aside for road maintenance to a completely different project. Residents across the East Riding certainly deserve answers to those questions.
There could though be another reason why this money is being spent. Traders in Beverley are concerned a new shopping and leisure development on the outskirts of the town centre will damage their businesses. I am not the only one wondering if this money is being used to silence some of the opposition.
Either way, the proposed transformation of Saturday Market is neither needed, nor has it been asked for, and it is wrong to transfer cash out of one budget to pay for another project, especially when some roads are in a poor state of repair. Cllr Parnaby should remember his words from last month and stop this vanity project in its tracks.