THE LEADER of Warwick District Council has called on MP Matt Western to ‘stop playing political games’ with Leamington’s regeneration.
Warwick and Leamington MP Mr Western hit out at the council in last week’s Observer over its partnership with private company Public Sector PLC, (PSP) which council bosses said they would not be using to deliver the controversial new HQ project.
Mr Western demanded to know how much had been spent on ‘wasted project costs and fees’ to the company.
But council leader Andrew Day has hit back accusing the MP of using the town’s regeneration as a ‘political punching bag’ and says Mr Western has already been told the private company had paid the costs and not the council.
Coun Day said: “We all know town centres across the country are facing significant challenges. This is particularly true for Leamington. In response, Warwick District Council is working with a range of partner organisations to develop schemes for the regeneration of our beautiful town. This work is too important to be used as a political punching bag by Mr Western.
“The new HQ, Covent Garden car park, Riverside House and Creative Quarter regeneration schemes, not to mention the plans for delivering the Commonwealth Games, transforming the railway station into a fully functioning transport hub and tackling air pollution could potentially transform the town, boosting footfall and the retail offering while enhancing amenities for all our residents. Tens of millions of pounds of investment by the council, other public sector partners and selected developers could, if secured, create jobs and provide much needed public facilities.
“Our MP Matt Western, knows full well the council has paid nothing ‘in wasted project costs and fees’ for the HQ relocation, Covent Garden car park and Riverside House projects. He is well aware PSP, not the council, has met the development costs in bringing forward these proposals, because I told him so when we met in August. Matt understands exactly how the partnership works and far from the relationship being ‘secret’ or beyond scrutiny, he himself has had meetings directly with PSP, been given briefings on key reports dating back to 2016 and every opportunity to review the workings of the partnership.
“At our meeting last month, in an attempt to ‘reset’ the relationship, I also shared with Matt this new council was carefully reviewing the merits of the partnership, given that it had so far been unable to deliver on its contractual obligations necessary to make the schemes viable. I was open about the fact that we’re considering all options to deliver the maximum public benefit and when this new council has reached a considered view on what will happen next, then he along with other stakeholders will be fully briefed on the plans. Until then, it is ‘business as usual’.
“That’s the truth of the matter, nothing more, nothing less, no conspiracies, no mis-management – exactly what was announced.
“I’ve not received a letter from him raising concerns about PSP, as he claims. It was also disappointing that having shared the PSP press release with him in advance of publication and invited Matt to a call should he have any questions, he chose to ignore my offer and instead seized the opportunity to launch a self-serving political attack. I had hoped for more from our MP and was genuinely trying to establish a constructive partnership. I was also disappointed at Matt’s recent disparaging response to Leamington’s success in winning a hard-fought selection for the government’s Better High Street Fund.
“I do appreciate that the current febrile political atmosphere may not encourage a more collaborative approach. However, I have a first-hand understanding of the significant personal commitment made by our elected representatives in serving the community. Through that shared bond, I remain hopeful that political point scoring can be put aside and we can find a way to establish a more constructive relationship for the benefit of all our residents. If we can learn from this unfortunately exchange, then just maybe a way can be found for Matt Western and Warwick District Council to work together in a spirit of genuine co-operation to deliver this important regeneration programme.”
But Mr Western says he is just doing his job by holding those in power to account.
He said: “The project was and remains seriously flawed.
“The public knows I have opposed the council offices project from the outset – some four years. It is a waste of money. My position has not changed.
“It was good to meet with Councillor Day in early August to discuss this, but neither I nor the public and local businesses will be happy until the project is permanently shelved.
“Mr Day is being deliberately misleading as he knows that there have been significant costs to the council and that there will be compensation costs to PSP for work they’ve undertaken.
“Were it not for my determination to hold both the council and PSP to scrutiny, there would not have been a public meeting last October nor would PSP have finally agreed to meet with me – both after almost a year of persistent requests from my office.
“It is disappointing Coun Day has chosen to personally attack me on two issues in one letter. Such a co-ordinated attack is inappropriate. The public expect me to hold a light to the workings of the government and local authorities. I repeat, there will be costs and compensation payments and these will be significant and in the millions of pounds.
“I appreciate him drawing attention to the important work I’m doing in bringing together the Local Enterprise Partnership, the district and county councils to create a fantastic new transport hub at Leamington station. This is what collaboration and co-operation looks like, and I’m proud to be facilitating this.
“Regarding the ‘possible investment in Leamington town centre’, can I urge that this is simply a possibility.
“All I have said is that the timing of this announcement is curiously coincidental with Johnson calling for a General Election and the government is simply trying to buy votes. How else do you explain government considering Leamington as opposed to many northern town centres such as Ellesmere Port that are really on their knees and desperately need investment? You can’t.
“That’s why there is a Freedom of Information request that has gone in to understand the criteria it has used.
“Of course, I welcome investment if it’s real and I’m delighted by the fact that having a Labour MP has stimulated the government to target funding here. Good news for Warwick and Leamington.”