BOURNEMOUTH, Christchurch, and Poole could become one of the best places to be in the UK, or even Europe, if there is further investment in the area.

Council leader Drew Mellor says the authority should not be frightened to borrow to invest for the future.

He says that with low debt, compared to other councils of a similar size, borrowing to invest was a sound strategy.

“Our area absolutely deserves investment…I passionately believe we can be the best place to live, work, play in the UK and Europe, but we need to invest in it…this is the time to put our place on the map,” he told a Monday evening overview and scrutiny meeting.

Cllr Mellor defended the tactic which would see borrowing against the value of the area’s beach huts, foregoing future rents to achieve an immediate payment.

Former council leader Cllr Vikki Slade told the meeting there was widespread concern about what people viewed as the selling of the ‘pride and joy’ of the area with concerns about future agreements for beach hut holders and how maintenance in the years ahead would be carried out.

She described the council’s current financial strategy as “spiv and spin” claiming many felt uncomfortable about it, fearing the beach huts could eventually be left in the hands of an investment company, or foreign assets business.

Read more: “Great news for Poole”: Town to finally get food waste collections

Cllr Mellor said that would not be the case, with control remaining in the hands of the council with the extra, upfront income, being available for further investment in the beach huts.

He said if the proposal went ahead the council would lose annual net payments of over £3million a year from the huts, but would gain a large sum upfront, possibly £54million, which is could then use as it chose.

“The risk is negligible,” he said, “It’s 20 years of money upfront for less costs,” later adding that he was comfortable it would be a better service for beach hut users.

Councillors later heard that gross income from the BCP beach huts was £6.1million a year.

Read more: How the future of beach huts 'underpins' BCP Council budget proposals

Cllr Lesley Dedman said that although the arrangement might be common in the business world the council was dealing with residents’ money. She claimed the council would have problems persuading Mudeford Spit beach hut users that it was a good idea.

“I find it very disturbing…a resident told me it was paying for things on the never, never and I think it will cause problems when you try and put this budget through,” she warned.

Cllr Mike Cox, describing the proposal as “a financial wheeze” said the only ambitious thing about the idea was getting the council into more debt, without the detail which ought to be necessary before entering into any agreement.

“We are only borrowing the pay for the deficit in council spending…it is covering up failings to make proper savings,” he said.

The committee approved a recommendation for the Cabinet to develop a fall-back plans should any change in Government regulations prevent the beach hut funding plan from coming to fruition.

A cabinet report for next year’s budget proposes the creation of a special purpose vehicle (SPV), which would be wholly or majority owned by the council. That would then purchase the beach huts at market value possibly with the help of a loan from the council and going to the market to meet the rest of the cost. The paper estimates that this could give the council £54million, subject to Government rules allowing it.

If it goes ahead the SPV would use income from rentals towards repaying loans, maintenance and repair costs, taxes and fees.

The cabinet report says the council could bring the SPV to an end once the debt had been cleared and return the assets to council control or re-finance them again.