A DEVELOPER which was frozen out in a bid to build a £40m snow centre in Middlesbrough is being pursued over the public funds it received for the project, the Local Democracy Reporting Service can reveal.

Cool Runnings NE Ltd received £250,000 from the Tees Valley Combined Authority (TVCA) three years ago with Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen, who called the scheme “massive” for Middlesbrough, stating it was “extra financial support to get the project over the line”.

TCVA is now seeking to claw back some of the cash after the decision by Middlesbrough Council to drop out of the project, which would have been built on land owned by the council at Middlehaven Dock.

Cool Runnings NE Ltd remains an active company registered with Companies House, although it began trading as Sub Zero (Middlehaven) Ltd after the latter was newly incorporated in January 2019.

The former has denied it is in administration after a statement by TVCA appeared to suggest this was a possibility. Both firms share the same director, Rachael Howson, and registered address in Thornaby.

The plans for a winter sports centre in Middlesbrough were first mooted in 2014 and given outline planning approval back in 2017, but could now end in legal acrimony between the various parties involved with the developer already said to be engaged in litigation against Middlesbrough Council.

A TVCA spokesman said there was a loan element within the £250,000 which would be repayable. He said: “[We] provided both a loan and grant to Cool Runnings NE Ltd to support the development of an outline business case for a proposed snow centre. Should it be confirmed that the company has entered administration, the combined authority will take the appropriate steps to reclaim the public monies.”

Asked if the authority would have invested nearly £4m in the Middlehaven Dock bridge, which was intended to pave the way for work on the snow centre, had it known the project would not go ahead, a spokesman said: “The redevelopment of Middlehaven is a key priority for Middlesbrough Council, which the combined authority supported by providing funding through the Local Growth Fund for the Middlehaven Dock bridge project to improving the road access to the site. This bridge now unlocks investable land at Middlehaven that makes it a more exciting prospect for businesses to locate.”

Last October Middlesbrough Mayor Andy Preston placed a huge question mark over the snow centre plans when he said the proposals “did not stack up financially” and the only way they would happen is if the council and the combined authority guaranteed about half of the £40m needed to build the facility.

He described the snow centre – called Subzero – as “exciting, but speculative” and said it was too much of a risk to support financially.

Mr Preston’s intervention took those behind the project by surprise with a statement at the time adding it “did not reflect their understanding of the situation”.

Recently a council report revealed the developers’ option to secure a long term premium lease of a seven acre brownfield site next to Middlesbrough College on which the snow centre would have been built lapsed last month.

It said: “The developers who secured the option on the site were ultimately unable to bring forward a commercially fundable scheme, or one that the public sector could support without risking tens of millions of pounds of taxpayers money over the lifetime of the project.”

Alternative uses are now being explored for the land in question, which was bought by the council from Government body Homes England for £840,000.

A wider vision has since been put forward for Middlehaven, between Middlesbrough Dock and Stockton Street, which will include up to a thousand new homes being built.

Subzero, whose promotional website subzerocentre.co.uk can still be accessed on the internet, promised an exciting indoor snow, retail and leisure destination.

It would be the “first of its kind” in the North East, creating 350 jobs and potentially attracting up to two-and-a-quarter million visitors a year.

The centre was to include a ski jump, ‘cable ski’, skydive and climbing facilities, and a ten pin bowling alley, along with a shop and ‘ice bar’, while new car parks and associated landscaping were also part of the proposals.

Full planning permission was granted in March last year with a spokeswoman for Subzero claiming the approval was a “ray of light in difficult times” and £750,000 had been spent in attempting to bring the project to fruition.

Councillor Matthew Storey, leader of the Labour group on Middlesbrough Council, said the snow centre was due to be a key part of the Middlehaven development.

He said: “Clearly the council took the view it is no longer viable.

“There are lots of projects which simply aren’t viable without public investment, but there are always limits to how much public money can be put in.

“The outcome is disappointing, but if they can’t make it work then we can’t waste taxpayers’ money on it.”

Referring to the money TVCA had given towards the project, Cllr Storey, who is chairman of the organisation’s audit and governance committee, said: “Again it is taxpayers’ money, people need to know where it is gone and quite rightly it should be accounted for.”

According to a publicly available response to a Freedom of Information request previously submitted to Middlesbrough Council, the local authority had contractual relationships with Cool Runnings NE Ltd and another firm, Twenty13 Developments Ltd – of which Rachael Howson is also a director – although the latter was dissolved in January last year.

From April 2019 these arrangements were then consolidated and superseded by a binding relationship with Subzero (Middlehaven) Ltd.

The most recently available published accounts for Cool Runnings NE Ltd, which cover the 12 months up to September 30 last year, show it had current assets worth £281,731 with amounts owed to creditors falling within one year totalling £107,557.

Andy McDonald, the Labour MP for Middlesbrough, who was another supporter of the project, was approached to comment on the snow centre saga, but indicated he had nothing to add to previous statements he had made.

Simon Clarke, Conservative MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, said: “It’s of course disappointing when large-scale projects like the proposed snow centre prove to be unworkable.

“I have contacted Middlesbrough Council’s chief executive seeking a meeting to find out what happened in this case.”

A spokeswoman for Cool Runnings NE Ltd said: “Cool Runnings NE Ltd can confirm it is not in administration, but has no further comment to make at this time.”