REVEALED: Taxpayers set to pay for Portbury Wharf Nature Reserve years earlier than expected
PUBLISHED: 07:23 04 March 2019
Taxpayers are likely to be footing the bill for Portbury Wharf Nature Reserve years earlier than expected, the Times can reveal.
Dwindling accounts used to pay for upkeep of the reserve will not last as long as North Somerset Council insisted; meaning it looks set to be responsible for covering the costs sooner than planned.
The council had hoped a pot of cash used to pay for the maintenance would last at least 10 years when it took control of the work in 2016, but accounts of Port Marine Management Ltd (PMML) show the money is likely to dry up in around 2023 – putting the burden on taxpayers earlier than expected.
PMML chairman Nigel Ashton, who is also leader of the council, told the Times: “The funding will last about four years and it will subsequently be absorbed into general council tax.
“The land will belong to North Somerset and the balance will be used over four to five years.”
The nature reserve was created when Portishead’s marina was developed for housing.
Homeowners in the marina were charged a levy by PMML for maintenance of the reserve – which was then carried out by Avon Wildlife Trust – until 2015 when the escalating fees were scrapped.
It was also announced by PMML ownership of the land would be handed to the council, which would absorb the annual maintenance cost through its contractor Glendale.
The council has carried out the maintenance since 2016, but the reserve is yet to be transferred to its ownership despite Mr Ashton’s assurances it would ‘only take a few weeks’ back in 2015 – and the deal appears no closer to being finalised.
When North Somerset started managing Portbury Wharf, £367,576 raised from the levy sat in PMML’s account, but figures show in two years the kitty reduced by around £130,000.
The end of 2018 accounts – which are yet to be published – are expected to show less than £200,000 remains if the same rates continue, equating to between four to five years worth of maintenance costs.
Mr Ashton added: “Assets haven’t been falling. PMML was set up to collect a levy on all their houses. That paid for the maintenance of the nature reserve.
“I was not in favour of the way it was set up. I was asked in a personal capacity to help out because the annual charge was going up and up and they had no control over the amount and it was never ending.
“What we agreed was that in 2015 we stopped charging the levy because there was half a million (pounds) and we would transfer the land to the council and stop charging the levy.
“The land still hasn’t transferred. It’s been going through legal requirements to transfer the land for the council.”
A council spokesman said the authority’s management of the reserve is ‘going really well’, but said it ‘is not appropriate to comment on PMML’s accounts’.
They added: “It costs around £40,000 a year to manage the nature reserve.
“There are still complex legal matters that need to be resolved before transfer of the site can take place.”