Thursday, 11 September 2014

Tunnel Vision

One of responsibilities of being an opposition councillor is probing into some of the poorer financial judgements made since 2002/03. 

An issue which is likely to raise its head in the coming weeks and months is the financial status of the Medway Tunnel. 

For those that do not know this Tunnel has been mired in controversy since the Rochester Bridge Trust (RBT) transferred to Medway Council the freehold of the Medway Tunnel, including the tunnel structure, tunnel portals, and the associated land and tunnel service buildings in 2009. The transfer included a sum of £3.648 million. (The original sum offered was £4 million, but during the preparation for the proposed transfer, some of this money had already been given to the Council to assist with the 2007/08 revenue costs of the tunnel.

Following the transfer for £1, the RBT ceased involvement with, or responsibility for, the operation of the Tunnel. Ownership and full responsibility for the Tunnel fell onto the Council.

At the time the BBC undertook an investigative documentary (see above) that implied concern around how senior individuals in both the Council and RBT acted. These issues today have still not been entirely resolved. The concern expressed by my predecessor, Labour MP for Chatham, Jonathan Shaw indicated that the transaction would leave a terrible legacy for residents in large part because of medium-long term revenue implications on the Council. 

He was right.  

The revenue tipping point - in my mind – may have just been reached. From now, the Council taxpayer is potentially liable to pick up the tab on ongoing revenue implications for this tunnel. This is not an insignificant sum of money and could fund road improvements and other projects across the Unitary Authority.

When challenged in Full Council on whether the Tory Group would rule out a toll to fund the Tunnel in future no categorical answer was given. I recently raised the situation with the Tunnel at Council Overview & Scrutiny meeting and there has been no movement on moving this asset off the Council books. 

It is another black hole in the ground that any incoming administration next year will have to face.

The figures are in the below letter:

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