An awkward truce was agreed between Warwick and Leamington councillors on Wednesday after their increasingly entrenched positions on St Mary’s Lands and the racecourse were debated.
Council chairman Clare Sawdon allowed extra time for the often bad-tempered discussion as some 40 protestors against any further development on the land filled the public gallery.
Political differences appeared less important than town allegiances as Nigel Hamilton, chairman of the St Mary Lands group, formally presented his 1,200-strong petition.
Mr Hamilton said: “St Mary Lands might appear to be a complex set of issues but our petition is in fact very simple.”
He reminded councillors they were the landlords of this old town common, a public space for the past 800 years, and the main thing was to keep the central area in the middle of the racecourse green, free of development and with an enhanced ecology that would allow local people to continue to enjoy walking there.
He added: “According to published accounts the land already makes a profit of nearly £100,000 a year in income from car parks and tenants (like the racecourse).
“Councillors need to understand there is widespread anger in Warwick that proposals brought forward to the executive committee in October (including a bigger caravan park) appear to be only interested in supporting the narrow commercial interests of a handful of tenants.”
Council leader Andrew Mobbs, who asked for a temporary adjournment after declaring all the claims and counter-claims being made were slipping into farce, said it was the council’s job to make best use of the land as a resource for the whole district, not just a relatively small group of people living nearby.
He said despite reports of a masterplan, none had actually been agreed. The council estimated some £2 million has been invested in the past ten years, including support for a new stable block at the racecourse, its chief tenant.
As feelings continued to run high - with Warwick councillors like Bob Dhillon claiming he felt he was being gagged - a fresh resolution was agreed.
This read: A masterplan for St Mary’s Lands has yet to be developed; when this is undertaken a reconstituted working party will include two representatives of the Friends’ group; the resultant draft masterplan will be subject to widespread public consultation; that only following this will a decision go before the council executive.