Leamington MP gives support to referendum call for council's HQ plans

CGI of Warwick District Council's proposed new HQ in Leamington.
CGI of Warwick District Council's proposed new HQ in Leamington.

Labour MP Matt Western has announced his support for a motion which calls for a referendum on Warwick District Council's controversial plans to build new offices in Leamington town centre.

Cllr Colin Quinney (Lab, Leam) has put forward the motion which will go before a meeting of the full council at Leamington Town Hall tonight (Wednesday November 14) from 6pm.

In the motion, seconded by independent councillor Sue Gallagher, Cllr Quinney expresses concerns about the plans which include "contraventions of policy on affordable housing, section 106 contributions, costly and inadequate displacement parking, risk to town centre businesses and considerable impact on the environment and conservation area.

He says that "with a further £3 million funding shortfall identified in the viability assessment even the 'broadly cost-neutral' objective may not be met" and that there is "widespread public concern".

Cllr Quinney has asked that “the council recommends to its executive that it defers taking final decisions on the office relocation project to proceed to phase 2 and seeks public approval at a district-wide referendum to be held on May 2 2019”.

He has said that, by having the referendum on the same day as the local elections, "the additional costs should be acceptable".

He has added: "Deferring the decision will also give time for other options which may serve the public interest to be considered, carefully and objectively."

Mr Western, the MP for Warwick and Leamington, has been very outspoken and active in his opposition to the council's plans.

Speaking in support of Cllr Quinney's motion, he said: “It is clear there is no mandate for the council to push ahead with this decision and it should be postponed until after the May 2019 District elections at the very least.

"Local residents and businesses feel continually ignored and side-lined by the Council.

Warwick and Leamington MP Matt Western

Warwick and Leamington MP Matt Western

"There has been no proper consultation with the local community at which options were presented.

"The 'consultation' claimed by the Council was actually after the Council made their planning decision.

"That has to be wrong.

"The council leadership has no mandate to build itself new offices; it was never in their party's manifesto and it has never been put to a public vote.

"The public should have the final say in these plans.”

Council Leader Cllr Andrew Mobbs recently wrote a lengthy column for the Courier in an attempt to address the public's concerns about the plans.

This was before a public meeting about the plans, organised by the council, was held at the Spa Centre this week.

Independently chaired by BBC CWR’s Phil Upton, those attending were given the opportunity to put their questions to the panel of councillors and officers - Cllr Andrew Mobbs, the Leader of the Council, Cllr Peter Whiting, Finance Portfolio Holder, Cllr Moira-Ann Grainger, Neighbourhood Services Portfolio Holder; they were joined by Bill Hunt, Deputy Chief Executive and Rob Hoof, Head of Neighbourhood Services.

Mr Western said: "“This was the meeting the council leadership had avoided for months and yet when it came to it they consistently failed to give straight answers.

This meeting only happened because of public pressure and the failure of the Council leadership to show up to the last public meeting.

"Just a few weeks ago, the Conservative-led Council voted against a motion put forward by Labour and the Lib-Dems requesting that, should there be a public meeting, elected Council Executive members be required to attend.”

At the meeting, attended by hundreds of people, many residents questioned the financial implications of the scheme, the felling of mature trees, the complete absence of affordable housing as part of the project and the lack of a realistic car parking displacement services.

Representatives from the business community such as Russell Allen and Steph Kerr of BID Leamington made their view clear that there was no viable carparking displacement plan in place and the council offices project needed to postponed for at least six months.

Cllr Mobbs said: “We are getting close to when the executive will be making the final decision on this project and a public meeting at this stage was a good way of helping to inform that decision, engage with residents of the district and to clarify some of the misinformation being shared.”

A date for when the full council will vote on whether or not to proceed with the plans will be set after the meeting tonight.