WARRINGTON Borough Council’s leader has defended the authority’s level of borrowing – and the £142.5 million cash injection to regenerate the town centre.

The council’s level of debt has been forecast to top £1.5 billion in 2021 but senior figures remain confident that the strategy is the right approach for the town.

At the leader’s forum earlier this month, council leader Cllr Russ Bowden (LAB – Birchwood) highlighted the challenges of ensuring residents understand issues surrounding the level of borrowing and investments.

He said: “There are people who say there is all this level of debt but what they don’t realise is, yes, we have got a level of debt but we have also got a whole load of assets that have been bought.”

Time Square – the council’s flagship town centre regeneration scheme – will feature a Cineworld multiplex cinema, permanent market hall, council offices and a public square after completion.

Both The Botanist and Cineworld could open before Christmas, with the council offices and the new market expected to open in the first quarter of 2020.

After being pressed over the £142.5 million Time Square investment, Cllr Bowden added: “You can sit there and complain about the death of the town centre or you can try and do something.

“Time Square is not just about retail, it is about changing the culture in the town centre, away from vertical drinking to more family-oriented activity.”

Furthermore, local authorities, including Warrington, have been put on alert after the rate for borrowing from the public works loan board was increased.

The Treasury confirmed the rise, which takes immediate effect, in a letter to finance officers at local authorities.

The move increased the rate for a public works loan board 50-year new maturity loan from 1.81 per cent to 2.82 per cent.

But it will not have an impact on the council’s existing loans.

“This only affects the rate for future borrowing and not existing loans,” said a council spokesman.

“As always, any business case that requires the council to borrow will be subject to robust challenge.”