AN investment in a shopping centre which has lost half its value since it was bought is adding to the financial burden on public services in northern Oxfordshire.

Cherwell District Council, which runs local public services like bin collections, leisure, and social housing, signed off on its budget for 2021/22 on Monday night.

The council plans to spend £22.37m over the course of the year between April 2021 and March 2022, which will be funded by collecting £138.50 in council tax from the average Band D household over the course of the year.

This is an increase of £5 on last year’s average rate, of £133.50.

ALSO READ: This tax rise will be added to the £1,573 Oxfordshire County Council plans to collect from the average household

But a decision to buy a huge stake in Banbury’s Castle Quay shopping centre has impacted the council’s spending plans, contributing to cuts to services.

At the meeting on Monday night, Cherwell’s executive member for finance, Tony Ilott, said the budget helped to maintain services while making ‘efficiencies’ which allowed the council to work closer with Oxfordshire County Council.

Mr Ilott said: “We are working closer than every with Oxfordshire County Council which will save us money with joint ventures and shared services, but we are increasing the council tax by just under 10 pence a week; or to put it another way the council cost of a Band D property will be just £138, which amounts to 38p a day.

He added: “We are still delivering affordable housing and supporting the most vulnerable members of our society.

“We will deliver the green plan and make progress on our pledges to become carbon neutral by 2030.”

Bodicote House in Banbury, Cherwell Councils headquarters

Bodicote House in Banbury, Cherwell Council's headquarters

However, the budget also includes £4.4m worth of cuts, largely due to the impact of the coronavirus, and council staff have previously predicted further savings may be needed in future years too.

Many of the savings come from the shift to working from home, which means the council’s office at Bodicote House in Banbury is costing less money in heating and lighting bills.

Castle Quay, which the council bought as part of the it’s long term financial plans to bring in a steady income, is currently set to lose £1.6m in rent over the next year, contribution to the total of £4.4m savings it needs to make.

In 2017, the council decided to buy an 85 per cent stock in the centre, costing it £63.4m, having already purchased the other 15 per cent before this.

ALSO READ: 'We don't want parking permit zones in our parts of Oxford'

As of December 2020, the shopping centre would be worth only £33m if sold, however its value is forecast to rise again to £40m in 2022.

However, it is mainly the loss of rent from shops which have had to shut their doors during the pandemic which has hit the council’s coffers.

Cherwell’s only Green councillor Ian Middleton said he was concerned with the council’s investment in the Castle Quay shopping centre, which he described as ludicrous.

Mr Middleton said: “Of course all this is now being blamed on the pandemic, but that's only part of the story. This was always a reckless investment, and that recklessness has now translated into service cuts for everyone in Cherwell.”

Banbury Castle Quay. Picture: Jon Lewis

Banbury Castle Quay. Picture: Jon Lewis

During the meeting, there was also outcry from Labour opposition group leader Sean Woodcock, who objected to the rise in council tax from the Conservative-run council.

He said: “Hiking council tax now with a pay freeze for keyworkers, leaving families across the country with less money in their pockets, is a poor reward for those who have sacrificed so much in this crisis.

“These tax rises are choking off the recovery before it has even begun.

“At a time when our town centres need shoppers more than ever they are going to ramp up the parking charges.”

ALSO READ: Readers reveal first thing they'll do post-Covid

The Conservatives were quick to attack the lack of budget amendments from opposition councillors.

Kieron Mallon, the Tory councillor for Banbury Calthorpe and Easington said: “For all of Councillor Woodcock’s bluff and bluster he offers no alternatives or any socialist policies because as we have seen in national or local politics, Labour has no answer.”

The budget was approved, with 30 councillors voting in favour, nine against, and six abstaining.