WORK on The Deck is one step closer to getting underway after it was agreed public funds would be used to help kickstart the regeneration project.

As the News revealed earlier this week, almost £1 million of taxpayer cash from the Department for Transport is set to be funnelled to the town’s latest redevelopment scheme, which will see a new public space complete with bars and restaurants link to Princess Square and The Lexicon.

Bracknell Regeneration Partnership (BRP) — a joint venture made up of financial services company Legal & General and real estate investors Schroders UK — is the group paying for most of the development at site of the former Bentall’s store.

EXPLAINED: Why developers of The Deck want £1 million in public funds to complete the project

They are contributing around £12 million, with Bracknell Forest Council paying an extra £6 million in public funds.

Another £955,000 of taxpayer money will now be re-directed to the regeneration scheme after BRP requested a financial boost having outlined worries the project would not be possible without the cash injection.

At a meeting of the Berkshire Local Transport Body (BLTB), councillors from across Berkshire’s six local authorities agreed to the proposal despite concerns being raised about the request.

Wokingham borough councillor Pauline Jorgensen outlined her worries, questioning why public cash should “subsidise” a private investment.

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Bracknell Forest councillor Marc Brunel-Walker hit back suggesting the £955,000 would be used to fund public realm work rather than the demolition of the Bentall’s store — contrary to what the BLTB report indicated the money would go towards.

He added: “I wouldn’t necessarily say we are subsidising a private company. Most of the work we are going to be doing is around the public realm as opposed to the development itself.

Bracknell News:

“The majority of the work that’s going to be done by the BRP is the demolition strip out. The majority of the work this funds is public realm [work], not demolition, although that is the description.”

Earlier, councillor Brunel-Walker told his counterparts about the benefits of the project.

He said: “This is a scheme which is not just about the demolition of a building, but it is about enabling a huge amount of new employment space, job space, retail space.

“It’s designed to connect the pedestrian spaces. It’s enabling people to get more easily around the town centre to improve public access.

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“The scheme is shovel-ready. We will be able to get people on site from January. It’s ready to go.”

But these claims did not get rid of the concerns some other BLTB members had.

Reading councillor Tony Page admitted the scheme was “exciting” but suggested a decision should be delayed to allow solicitors to confirm whether the regeneration was appropriate for public sector investment before the BLTB approves the funding.

Bracknell News:

Royal Borough councillor shared these concerns, suggesting public funding of this scheme could create a precedent where other building companies hit hard by the pandemic ask for taxpayer cash.

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But Bill Hicks, infrastructure boss at the Thames Valley Local Enterprise Partnership, warned Body members this cash needed to be allocated otherwise the money would have to be returned to the government in April 2021.

He said: “I can see this evolving into prolonged discussions, in principle that sounds very commendable.

“But my doomsday scenario is that I hand back a cheque to the government for a million pounds at the end of March because we don’t have a requisite project.”

With this in mind, councillors agreed to funnel the £955,882 to The Deck project on the condition a solicitor confirms the scheme is suitable for public funding.

The BLTB met on Thursday, November 12.