Calls for Warwick District Council to release study into controversial headquarters plan

The proposed designs for Warwick District Council's new HQ.
The proposed designs for Warwick District Council's new HQ.

The plans might have been approved, but there are still questions over Warwick District Council’s plans to downsize and move into offices on the new Covent Garden multi-storey car park development.

But it’s the council’s decision not to build any affordable homes on its current HQ site that has continued to cause anger.

Warwick and Leamington MP Matt Western has been consistently raising concerns about Warwick District Council’s controversial headquarter plans - and this week he went further by asking them to finally publish the viability assessments around the sale of its Riverside House headquarters.

The multi-million pound project involves the council moving from the Riverside House site, which will make way for new houses, and into a new headquarters as part of the redevelopment of the Covent Garden car park in Russell Street.

He launched a petition in January objecting to the council’s use of the site exclusively for private housing with the developer providing no affordable, social or council housing as part of the project.

He has said that this contradicts the council’s own policy and the Government’s directive for 40 per cent affordable homes on new developments.

The council said a viability assessment concluded that affordable housing would make the project unworkable. But officers also said the study cannot be realised to the public due to ‘financial sensitivities’.

Mr Western said: “The fact that Warwick District Council is refusing to release the viability assessments around the sale of its Riverside House site to fund building itself new council offices is such an example where the public demand openness and this is something that even the Government is now pressing for.

“Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, released a report on the revised National Planning Policy Framework Consultation which states that: ‘Where a viability assessment is needed, it should reflect the recommended approach in national planning guidance, including standardised inputs, and should be made publicly available’.

“Warwick District Council is still refusing to release the viability assessments around the Riverside House development.”

Matt Western is also calling for all Warwick District Council meetings to be filmed and recorded to ensure residents can see how the decisions which will affect them are made.

At the most recent full council meeting, a proposal for all meetings to be filmed was rejected by the Conservative administration.

The reason given was that the technology and infrastructure to film full council meetings was not yet available.

This was, Mr Western said, despite other council meetings such as the planning committee using exactly the same room being filmed and made public.

Matt Western MP said: “We need to ensure that we have the highest standards of accountability and accessibility from our elected representatives.

Since 2014, all Warwickshire County Council full council meetings have been filmed - and recently scrutiny committee meetings have also been record.

Mr Western added: “I think it is important that the public has a chance to witness these meetings online and that they are a matter of record.

“The public must be able to scrutinise decisions taken and public meetings held by public representatives.”

In July 2014, regulations were made obliging local authorities to permit members of the public to film and use social media in council meetings.

Previously, whilst many councils permitted filming, tweeting and blogging from their meetings, others did not as they were not legally required to do so under the Local Government Act 
1972.

Warwick District Council’s chief executive Chris Elliott has responded to Mr Western’s concerns.

He said: “As a council all viability assessments that have been submitted have been treated as private and confidential.

“The council has treated the HQ application no differently to other applications.

“The council is aware of the recent new draft guidance which suggests quite a different approach to viability assessments overall, its proposals are not just about whether they are public or not.

“Once the guidance is confirmed then Warwick District Council will have to review its approach, as will all councils.”

In reference to Mr Western’s comments about recording meetings, he added: “The decision to record meetings of the full council, the executive, a committee or sub-committee will be down to the individual body.

“At present only planning and the licensing and regulatory sub-committees have resolved to record all of their meetings.

“Although questions have been asked informally at Full Council no formal proposal has been made, recently, to Full Council, Executive or any other committees for them to consider if they should be recorded or broadcast.

“At present the council only has the capability to record meetings held within the council chamber at the town hall, the other rooms used for committee meetings do not have that capability.

“However the new HQ offices are being designed to be equipped with AV equipment that will allow all council meetings to be recorded and broadcast.

“Warwick District Council’s public meetings are open for members of the press and public to attend where they can film, audio‐record, photograph or use social media should they wish to do (apart from occasions when the committee or meeting considers matters involving exempt or confidential information).”