WARWICK District Council leader Andrew Mobbs was besieged by protesters at the opening of a public exhibition on the authority’s controversial plans for a new headquarters.
Coun Mobbs along with project manager Duncan Elliot, was subjected to a verbal onslaught when the two day exhibition opened at the Royal Priors shopping centre this morning (Friday).
He was there to answer questions on the plans which will see a new council headquarters built on the current Covent Garden car park in Leamington town centre, together with 44 flats and a new 600 plus space multi-storey car park.
But there has been much anger over housing plans for the council’s existing Riverside House headquarters which do not include any affordable housing.
A sign on the floor in front of the exhibition read ‘Shame on you Warwick District Council – Leamington says no to council offices’.
One resident told the Observer: “There needs to be affordable houses now. Not many people who live north of the river have affordable housing and putting a shiny new council office opposite to where they can’t drive, cycle or walk down roads choked with traffic, is alienating those people.
“The service needs to be more accessible.
“And what is the point of a shiny, new office when residents are encouraged to make contact by phone or online anyway?”
Mr Mobbs explained the move would create means to allow affordable houses to be built elsewhere in the district, though it was unlikely on the Riverside House site.
But protesters say the council was still not being open enough and accused the leader of being vague.
Another resident added: “Our concerns have been waved aside as if they weren’t issues. There is no consultation process at all. They are frightened of the public. They are closing doors, it’s like old Soviet Russia.
“Our concerns are the future of the town and the disastrous plans to remove the car park even if it’s only for a couple of years.
“Supermarkets will close down, we’ve just lost House of Fraser, the high street is finished, people will shop elsewhere.
“They are killing the town.
“They need to explore another strategy.”
Coun Mobbs has said: “Moving our HQ is not about getting ourselves plush new offices, it’s about economic common sense and is just one part of our long-term strategy of investment in Leamington and the wider district.
“The district council has made surplus for the last 11 years and we want to make sure we continue to balance the budget which will save us £300,000 per year.
“The key message which people don’t understand is we’re not throwing away tax payers money – we are saving taxes. We haven’t cut any services we’ve enhanced and improved them and it’s because we’re so well financially managed we want to be able to continue our service to the community.
“There are myths this is a vanity project and people say things like ‘why do we do these things in time of austerity?’.
“We are committed to affordable housing . We are the first administration to build council houses in the district with a policy of 40 per cent. We have achieved 37 per cent and we are committed to making up the shortfall.”
He added the new car park was desperately needed and would be more accessible with more spaces and would include electric charging points.
A number of schemes are being considered to make up the temporary loss of spaces, including season tickets for commuters to free up car parks for shoppers.
The public exhibition runs on the upper floor of the Royal Priors from 11am to 4pm today and tomorrow (Saturday).