MP claims 'dramatic' u-turn on Government intervention for council's Leamington HQ plan

Warwick and Leamington MP Matt Western
Warwick and Leamington MP Matt Western

Warwick and Leamington MP Matt Western has expressed his anger over what he has described as a 'dramatic u-turn' on the Government's intervention into Warwick District Council's controversial headquarters move plan.

Mr Western has said that the Government has "suddenly refused to ‘call-in’ the new council office and car park projects.

CGI for Warwick District Council's new headquarters

CGI for Warwick District Council's new headquarters

He said: "Within one week of issuing a letter confirming that it would be placing both the Council Offices and Covent Garden Car park on 'indefinite hold', the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government has said it will not now be ‘calling-in’ the planning decisions to by Warwick District Council."

"In a remarkable turn-around, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government has quickly contradicted his own notice of last week and announced that he does not want to intervene in this planning process.

"This is despite the fact that the District Council has been both joint applicant and jury in these cases and that, as the authority responsible for housing provision, its own policy states it should be delivering 40% affordable and social housing on every development site."

“Having received Sajid Javid’s letter last week, it seemed as though the Government was actually listening to common sense and recognised that it should intervene. One can only imagine that there has been intense lobbying behind the scenes by the Council leadership for such a dramatic U-turn.

CGI for Warwick District Council's new headquarters

CGI for Warwick District Council's new headquarters

"The decision by the Government to not call in this decision is the clearly the wrong one.

"The Government failed to call in the decision at Northamptonshire County Council to build themselves new £53million offices which then had to be sold off earlier this year - just four short months after they moved in when they declared themselves bankrupt.

"Rather appropriately, those offices were officially opened by Mr Javid – himself in October 2017.

"And in failing to act in the case of Warwick District Council, it obviously hasn’t learned from the lessons of Northamptonshire – which also happens to be another Conservative authority.

"Very simply, the Government failed to intervene then and is failing to intervene now.”

"The consequences of building new offices when Warwick District Council continue to refuse to release their ‘Viability Assessments’, which are being used to justify the absence of affordable housing, are highly significant.

The council's scheme which includes the creation of a new town centre 620-space car park, offices for the authority and private housing, was approved by the council’s planning committee in January.

A separate outline planning application for up to 170 new homes on the current site of the council headquarters on Milverton Hill – the sale of which will fund the new HQ – was also approved.

The council has said that the move from Riverside House to the town centre will save it over £300,000 a year in running costs, improve accessibility for customers and increase footfall and spend for local businesses.

Mr Western has launched a petition against the plans.

He said: “This is a spectacular example of hands-off management by a Government that doesn’t care.

"It is happy to slash public services - from children’s services to road maintenance - while allowing its Conservative Councils to build themselves shiny new offices while people go homeless.

"The Secretary of State has fundamentally abdicated responsibility for this decision and is therefore sanctioning a project which delivers 0% affordable housing, when the guidelines of Warwick District Council clearly state it should be 40%. The public will judge them.”

“This is a bad day for Warwick and Leamington and a bad day for everyone in the local area who desperately needs affordable, social and council housing. There are 2400 people on the housing waiting list in the local area who have no hope of being housed on the site and Warwick District is the worst in the West Midlands for rough sleeping.

"This is also a bad day for Leamington’s Town Centre businesses, whose viability will be seriously undermined by the loss of car-parking capacity at Covent Garden carpark and will now fear for their long-term futures.

Mr Western added: “The council should listen to the public, to businesses and answer them.

"I remain opposed to Warwick District Council’s decision and will continue to campaign against the lack of affordable housing and loss of key car-parking spaces.

"There is widespread opposition to these plans from across the community and that opposition will only intensify if this project continues to go ahead. This is still the wrong development, in the wrong place, at the wrong time.”

Mr Western has been at loggerheads with the district council after he publicly invited its leader Cllr Andrew Mobbs and chief executive Chris Elliott to an open meeting to discuss the plans with concerned residents and business owners.

Cllr Mobbs and Mr Elliott will not be attending the meeting.

Cllr Mobbs said: “It would have been common courtesy, on the part of our local MP, to have approached both myself and Chris Elliott first before setting a date for this meeting and publicising it to the press, to see whether we were available to take part

"It is not my intention to attend because this is purely a political ploy and mischief making concerning a Council decision that has received cross party support over the years. The Labour group leader at the time was fully informed and briefed on a regular basis as were other group leaders. All group leaders supported our HQ move.

"I should also make it clear that we have followed the usual consultation process with local businesses, stakeholders and residents, including an exhibition in the Royal Priors . And I can also confirm that my email inbox has not received any contrary views regarding our HQ move from any individual business.

"I would have hoped that our MP would embrace and celebrate our well run Council, even though of a different political party.

"The office move enhances a part of the centre of Leamington, provides a larger new car park for one in danger of imminent closure from concrete cancer, provides approximately 200 new homes in Leamington and also saves the council tax payer £300,000 per annum.

"This is £3,000,000 over 10 years, £6,000,000 over 20 years and would mean a 4% council tax increase without these savings.

"We should recognise the common sense and financial benefits here.

"In conclusion, we will continue to get our positive message across; misleading statements and the attempt to whip up a furore for political gain merely damages the district. But we want everybody to have the opportunity to meet with us, therefore we will be organising an event at the Town Hall, so that all interested members of the public and our business community can come along and gain the true facts. “

And earlier this week, Mr Elliott played down any government intervention for the plans.

He said: "This is not a significant development, and does not represent a change to the “call-in” request already received by the council.

"The Secretary of State’s department received the request to consider a call-in of the planning decisions for the Covent Garden and Riverside House applications.

"They immediately contacted Warwick District Council to advise that no formal planning consent was to be issued until a decision on their call-in request was made.

"The council has agreed to this request and has now received it as a formal “Article 31” direction.

"The Secretary of State has yet to decide on the merits of the call-in request he has received."