AN IRVINE Conservative has warned NAC’s bid to buy the Rivergate would bring risks to tax payers – after it was revealed the plan could be back before councillors this year.

Irvine West councillor Scott Gallacher told the Times it was unlikely any Conservative members would vote for a revived bid for the centre – but welcomed the Labour administration’s ‘Thatcherite’ ambition to run a shopping centre.

Labour have hit back saying purchasing the mall was ‘municipal socialism’ in action, and that councillors who voted against it are ‘holding North Ayrshire back’.

As reported last week, Labour councillor Ian Clarkson said NAC’s bid for the centre could be revived, if the price was lowered and if councillors who voted against it changed there minds.

Cllr Scott Gallacher said: “Whilst any project of any nature can be dressed up as a success in a ‘best case scenario’ presentation, the harsh reality is that if current shopping trends continue as they are going, then as always the local taxpayer will be left picking up the bill.

“The shopping trends of the moment are moving rapidly from high street to online purchases, PricewaterhouseCooper reported last week that an average of 5.5 stores a week closed in Scotland during 2017, the highest rate in the UK.

“If the current Rivergate owners are not being successful in attracting more ‘upmarket’ shops to the centre, why would NAC, with no previous experience whatsoever in this field, fare any better? Add to this the SNP’s shambolic business rate changes sending many firms down the drain, and this situation will only get worse.

“The dubious promise of a cinema or food court many years down the line, does not offset this.

“I would not be comfortable inflicting this on the voters of Irvine West, and my colleagues ultimately felt the same way. If six months down the line this proposal did come back before NAC, not one thing is likely to have changed in the bigger scheme of things.

“Whilst it is most welcoming that Joe Cullinane and his comrades together with the Irvine SNP, are now at desperation stages to adopt Thatcherite policies of commercial property ownership and capitalist business plans, it is not an idea that I think is in the best interests of the ratepayers of North Ayrshire at this exact point in time. For this reason, I could not support a resurrected proposal." 

Irvine South Labour Councillor Robert Foster said: “The proposal to buy the Rivergate was not one that put a financial burden on the council, it brought in much needed funding.

“The profits from the Rivergate are tied to the value of the leases. All councillors were presented with a pessimistic view of the likely profits and even then we were looking at over £12million of new investment being created. It could have been more. It also helps that the Council can access lower borrowing rates than the private sector.

“Taking ownership of local assets like the Rivergate and using the profits to invest in the local area is municipal socialism in deeds not words.

“The Tories, independents and the more right wing faction in the SNP Group all voted to keep profits from the Rivergate going abroad rather than being invested in local regeneration projects.

“Their free-market, capitalist view of the world is a serious barrier to progress when we have a Labour Group determined to be bold and intervene in broken markets.

“Tory councillors have left the Forum and Ruby Tuesdays to rot whilst making sure Irvine continues to be one of Scotland’s largest towns without a cinema. They are holding North Ayrshire back.”