COUNCIL leaders are pressing ahead with plans for a new multi-million pound retail development set to create 100 jobs.

The Gateway 44 scheme will be just off Junction 44 of the M6 at Kingstown, Carlisle.

The contract to build a the unit that will be used for development has now been awarded, with a meeting to kickstart the project due to take place today.

The project was originally due to be finished this month, but work is yet to begin because councillors had sought assurances that the figures stacked up.

The city council then employed an independent expert to look at the business case and they verified that it was indeed a “sensible project”.

But Coun Trevor Allison raised concerns about a £125,000 shortfall listed in the budget papers at a meeting of the Business and Transformation Scrutiny Panel this week.

He also warned officers that the Government was “putting the squeeze” on council borrowing, specifically for retail projects like this one and described the present figures as “horrendous”.

But officers told the member for Dalston and Burgh that it was mainly in response to concerns that – as well as those of other councillors – that the council’s chief executive had put the breaks on the scheme in the first place.

And it was because of the delay that the council did not make the projected £125,000 cash boost income from the still-to-be-built development.

Mark Lambert, the council’s corporate director of governance and regulatory services, added: “That shortfall in the budget book is because we reacted to the questions, primarily raised by you, Trevor, and by other members of the council.

“We stopped it. We went to an independent organisation to verify the business case for Gateway 44. We carried out a thorough review.

“They have come back and said this is a sensible investment with a suitable rate of return for the council to make.

“The die is cast. We’ve got interest in the properties, but if one of them went bust, we would get somebody else. We’re not going to just leave a retail unit sitting empty.

“Nobody else can sit here and say ‘It’s not a difficult time’ for the retail market, but I have asked you before ‘What else would you do to try to increase the income for the council?’”

City chiefs hope that the finished scheme will bring long-term revenue to the council as they build up to 100 per occupancy.

Meanwhile, Chancerygate, the UK’s largest multi-unit industrial property developer and asset manager, is working to drum up interest in the units on the council’s behalf.

Deputy leader Gareth Ellis also gave strong assurances in a bid to allay Mr Allison’s concerns, particularly over the issue of borrowing for retail.

He said that Government concerns about councils “over-extending themselves” on borrowing for retail “did not apply” to the city authority because it has asset base of over £140m.

He added: “Anything that we borrow, we have the means and assets to withstand any of those debts.

“There are councils out there who have gone out and made retail decisions on a much bigger scale than this in the pursuit of income.

“This is the kind of thing that the people sitting in this organisation 30 or 40 years ago made when they developed Kingstown and Durranhill , and it’s those decisions which bring £5m worth of income into this council and pay for everything the council tax doesn’t.”

The 3.5-acre site is on Parkhouse Road, next to the M6, and has a frontage on to the A689. It also sits opposite the city’s Asda Superstore and the Kingstown Retail Park.