Everything you may have missed from Portsmouth City Council this week

Portsmouth City Council leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson
Portsmouth City Council leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson
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ONCE again Victory Energy dominated headlines about Portsmouth City Council this week.

Despite the efforts of Labour and Tory councillors to revive the scheme the council leader, Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, ruled that the venture would be 'too risky.'

Speaking at a special cabinet meeting on Tuesday he said: ‘This is a judgement call about the level of risk the council is willing to enter into and about risking taxpayers’ money.

‘Having looked at that and all the other information I think the right choice is to go with option two that we won’t proceed with this.

‘The level of risk is too high.’

The original decision to axe the company was made back in July and this was then called in by opposition groups in August.

It is estimated between  £1.7m and £4m will still be lost, with confirmation that the company will cost £18,000 a week to keep running until a buyer is found.

Read more on this story here.

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Another multi-million pound scheme cropped up in council agendas this week.

Papers for next Tuesday's cabinet meeting revealed the next step in the mammoth Southsea sea defence project.

Since the public consultations on sea defence plans that ran in Portsmouth this summer, the team behind the proposals have been working  to incorporate suggestions from residents.

The most contentious issue of the £120m scheme proved to be the option for pedestrianisation in areas such as Southsea Common and Canoe Park Lake as questionnaires revealed a preference from many to keep the roads. Adding in cycle lanes along most of the seafront was also a popular choice.

Portsmouth City Council’s head of environment, Cllr Dave Ashmore, explained why the consultations which attracted more that 1,700 people were so important.

Cllr Dave Ashmore, cabinet member for environment and community safety said: ‘We were delighted with the response we got from the public from the summer consultation on the Southsea Coastal Scheme,’ he said.

‘We always promised that we’d act on the public’s feedback, and I’ll be discussing the recommendations with my cross-party working group colleagues on Monday.

‘The public want to keep vehicular access, so we’ll be looking to take that forward but with the option of future pedestrianisation available as part of the design, so as people’s travel usage changes, we can react to that. We’ll look to slow down traffic and make it much more pedestrian and cycle friendly than it is now.’

The report on the sea defences will be discussed on Tuesday's meeting.

Read more on this story here.

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And, of course, in the political sphere you cannot avoid the topic of Brexit.

On Wednesday Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England, warned that commercial property prices would drop 48 per cent if a no-deal Brexit came about.

To date Portsmouth City Council has invested £146m of borrowed money into its property investment fund, made up of 13 commercial properties around the country,  including a Waitrose in Somerset, a Matalan store in Swindon and a Mercedes dealership in Southampton.

But councillors were adamant Mr Carney's predictions, that could have meant a loss of more than £70m, would not harm their investments.

Former council leader Cllr Donna Jones, who helped found the investment fund, said: ‘Mark Carney made a number of predictions in 2016 about the effects of a Brexit outcome on the UK economy which were proved to be wrong.

‘The council’s property investment fund was set up with a view of owning these commercial properties and not selling them for a number of years.

‘Therefore, if the value of the properties drop it is only significant at the point of when we would sell them. One of the key things is that the interest rates on the money we borrowed are fixed at two per cent.’

The council’s head of planning, Cllr Ben Dowling, agreed. ‘If it did crash we would wait for the market to recover before selling them,’ he said. ‘We would not sell an asset to a loss. And as a council we do have some financial protection. Our interest rates are set at two per cent.

‘The other thing that protects the council’s position is that we have quite a varied property investment portfolio. The mix de-risks what we are trying to do because if one loses value another one might support it.’

Read more on this story here.

I'm sure there will be plenty more Brexit stories for months to come.