Council planning to lend £5m to Tatton Park adventure park
A Cheshire council plans to loan £5m of taxpayers' money to help a company build an adventure park on a National Trust estate, it has been revealed.
Details of the loan, included in a private 2011 report to Cheshire East Council, have been uncovered following a Freedom of Information request.
Plans for Bewilderwood in Tatton Park include tree houses and a zip wire.
The council hopes the investment will boost visitor numbers but campaigners say it is a risk.
The Conservative-controlled authority said the now published report had previously not been released "on the grounds of commercial confidentiality".
It added that in certain circumstances, the council needed to keep "sensitive business information confidentially initially to allow negotiations to take place".
Bure Valley Adventures Ltd, the company behind the Tatton Park plans, opened the original Bewilderwood adventure park in Norfolk in 2007.
It said: "In the spirit of openness and transparency, Bewilderwood support the release of the report."
Tatton Park is owned by The National Trust, but maintained and operated by Cheshire East Council.
The plans for Tatton aim to attract 250,000 visitors a year and employ 20 full-time and 160 part-time or seasonal staff.
The report states the council would pay £1.5m to improve roads in and out of the park, to be paid back through park entry charges.
It adds that a loan to Bewilderwood of up to £5m would be made available to allow the attraction to be built, with a loan repayment period of 12 years.
The proposals are said to locate the adventure park in an area of Tatton that has been "inaccessible to the public for many years".
Labour Councillor Sam Corcoran, from Cheshire East Council, said he had no problem in principle with the plan, but did have concerns over the finances.
"In this case, the only money the other side are putting in is the loan Cheshire East Council has given to them, so that starts alarm bells ringing in my mind.
"I would want to look into details of the financial structure a lot further before giving my go-ahead."
'Alarm bells ringing'
Kim Ryley, chief executive of Cheshire East Council, said the company provided a "unique, attractive offer".
"We took extensive external advice to make sure that this was a commercially sound proposition and the way we wanted to approach it was an acceptable way forward.
"By investing now through this company we could save money in the long term by visitor numbers increasing income - nobody else we could find seemed to have anything like that experience to give us that kind of offer."
Save Tatton Park Action Group, which made the Freedom Of Information request, said the report raised "very worrying questions" as to the long term financial sustainability of the proposals.
"We, the taxpayers appear to be taking all the risk on a project which the business behind the concept can't even begin to fund itself," it said.
The council said a planning application for the Tatton site will be resubmitted shortly.