Concerns are growing over the axeing of a £600million aquarium-and-tourism project, after planning permission for the scheme expired.
The National Institute for Research into Aquatic Habitats (Nirah) was given the green-light in 2007 to construct the aquarium in Stewartby.
The government originally loaned £2million to the plan, with Bedford Borough and Central Bedfordshire councils now owed £1.6million. The scheme was given the go-ahead by Bedfordshire County Council before the authority was abolished.
Nirah was initially budgeted at £325million before estimates spiralled. It was due to open in 2012 as a scientific research centre and visitor attraction four times the size Cornwall’s Eden Project.
However the project failed to get off the ground due to a lack of investment.
A Freedom of Information request has revealed that interest on the government’s loan now puts total debts at over £3.5million.
Mid Bedfordshire MP Nadine Dorries has demanded an explanation.
She said: “This is something I have been opposing since I have been an MP. It doesn’t take a huge amount of business acumen to realise it would never attract the investment required.
“I’m at a complete loss as to why the government and the council would give five men £5million.”
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, said: “Bedfordshire Consortium Ltd is in active discussions with Nirah about repayment of the loan and the security held over the site.”
Councillor Richard Stay, who was deputy leader of the County Council and is still a portfolio holder for Central Beds Council, spoke about the scheme in 2008 when he was on the board of Nirah, insisted the council would get its money back.
Talking to the BBC he said: “There is value in the intellectual property rights, the planning permission and the actual land value which more than adequately covers the value of the loans made to Nirah.
“So if Nirah doesn’t happen, we stand a pretty certain chance of getting this money back.”
The scheme has also drawn fierce criticism from animal rights groups.
Animal Aid said: “We are delighted this highly unethical project has not gone ahead.”
> What do you think about the fate of the Nirah scheme? Email editorial@ timesandcitizen.co.uk