Leamington business owner gives views on council's controversial HQ move plan for town centre

Russell Allen of Aubrey Allen
Russell Allen of Aubrey Allen

Warwick District Council’s plans to move its new headquarters into the redeveloped Covent Garden multi-storey car park have caused huge debate, not least in our news pages. Russell Allen from Leamington butchers Aubrey Allen is a well-known businessman in town and also a member of Leamington’s Business Improvement District (BID). He has been outspoken about the plans - and we have published the statement that he has circulated about the plans which will be discussed at a public meeting at the Royal Spa Centre from 6.30pm tonight (Monday November 12).

Mr Allen writes, I love Leamington, I run businesses here, I live here.

Leamington has long been a place where people want to live, meet and shop and I have been driven to write to you as I fear all that is under threat and Leamington – the great socially diverse, community town full of interesting independent shops, cafes and restaurants is being side-lined in the interests and benefits of Warwick District Council who are supposed to serve it.

Having attended many public meetings and met with the leader of the council Andrew Mobbs over the last year in my role on the board of BID, I am convinced that these plans are socially and commercially destructive for our town.

Please, read this and sign the petition - at http://petition.mattwestern.org/ - supporting 200 businesses and the residents to stop these plans before it is too late.

What are the councils plans? The council plan to sell off Riverside House to private developers and move the council offices into the Covent Garden Car Park. This is a £15 million project starting in March. I would welcome a £15 million development in our town if I thought it would be of any benefit.

I accept that the council needs to save £300,000 per year of public money and rationalise the space currently afforded at Riverside

House.

I agree that the car park in Covent Garden needs re-development in time, in fact, it is essential.

I am not against the council selling off land to a private contractor to redevelop areas if it is in the interests of the community it serves.

Here are my objections:

CAR PARKING AND CONGESTION

Thirty per cent of our car parking (800 spaces) will disappear overnight in March 2019 if this is not stopped and there is of yet no cohort displacement strategy in place.

The council is suggesting further carpark spaces could be created in the Old Town and Archery Road.

I would suggest the area is already heavily congested for a small town and not only would this increase but also will people really visit Leamington to shop if they have to park in the Old Town and carry their shopping back these distances?

There is bound to be chaos in the already oversubscribed on street parking in residential areas.

The High Street is already under threat from internet and out-of-town shopping and I have a real fear that more businesses will close as shoppers go elsewhere, leaving a dead town with boarded-up shop fronts.

POLLUTION

Air pollution in the town is already at dangerously high levels; at least 100 trees will be felled in this project.

In addition with people fighting for car park spaces and driving around and around searching for somewhere to park this will exacerbate this with fewer trees to mitigate the damage. Is this what we want for our families?

COUNCIL IGNORING THEIR OWN GUIDELINES

The council guidelines are for 40 per cent affordable housing to be built on all new developments; under the proposed plans WDC are building zero. 85 affordable houses should be provided but instead of leading the way on social housing they are ignoring these important guidelines.

How are they getting around this?

They are using a loophole; they say that as long as the overall target is hit it doesn’t matter if not each re-development sticks to the guidelines – a luxury not afforded to other developers who have to jump through hoops not slip through loops. Even if this is legal – how does this look?

A socially sanitised town will be created and Leamington will lose its social diversity. Given the lack of houses and the difficulty younger and poorer members of our community have in finding housing, not to mention the homeless problem, the council should be setting an example.

The redevelopment in Covent Garden should house businesses who will bring benefit to our community and town instead of creating a new office in an attractive location for council employees.

TRANSPARENCY ON COSTS:

We need to see a full breakdown of how £300,000 per year will be saved and this needs to be seen in context not isolation. How much revenue will be lost through loss of car parks?

How much revenue will be lost through rates as businesses close?

MY SOLUTION

At the very least the project should be postponed until there is a costed and practical plan on the provision of replacement car parking whilst the Covent Garden scheme is built.

Is it possible they wish to get this through before the spring elections?

Or is it pressure from the developers?

They should reverse their decision to not provide any affordable housing on the Riverside development.

The town hall could easily accommodate a place for day-to-day important council transactions such as payment of bills and the main offices could then be placed out of town with parking.

This would be a start in solving all the very real concerns I have highlighted above and put the people of Leamington above the desire of the council for new offices in the town centre.

There is time to stop this but we need to act now.