CONTROVERSIAL plans for a new multi-million pound council headquarters and new homes in Leamington have been given the green-light in the face of fierce opposition.
Warwick District Council’s proposals for a new £8.6million headquarters on the site of Covent Garden car park in Leamington town centre were approved by the authority’s planning committee last night. The scheme also includes a new 620-space car park and 44 apartments for private sale.
A separate outline planning application for up to 170 new homes on the current site of the council’s headquarters on Milverton Hill was also approved.
The sale of the council’s current home will fund the new HQ with the council funding the cost of the new £9.75million car park.
Council chiefs say the move from Riverside House to the town centre will save over £300,000 a year in running costs, will be more accessible to residents, and will also boost the town centre economy.
Council leader Andrew Mobbs said: “Covent Garden has long been in need of major investment and this scheme will create a landmark development fitting to this key Leamington town centre location. The new development will support local businesses by providing a state of the art car-park with greater capacity, cycle storage and electric vehicle charging points, much needed town centre housing and smaller, more efficient and more accessible offices for the council and our customers.
“This has never been about politics it has been about economic common sense and regeneration. The reality is that the new council HQ will save over £300,000 a year in running costs, funds which we can use to maintain or improve the vital and high-quality services we provide.
“In addition, we have developed a project that means we do not have to dip into council reserves or borrow money to achieve these savings, as the sale of the Riverside House site will fund the new offices.
“The inevitable disruption that the closure of the existing car parks will cause while new car park is built has also been a major concern to many people. In addition to what was agreed by planning committee I can confirm that further proposals for temporary alternative parking will be brought forward to our Executive as a priority.
“I also recognise that some residents local to Milverton Hill have raised a range of concerns about the future development of the Riverside House site and we will work closely with all stakeholders to ensure that the development is carried out with maximum sensitivity and minimum disruption.”
But strong opposition has been voiced to both plans – with Warwick and Leamington MP Matt Western among them.
Mr Western, who also launched a petition last week, said many residents were furious and claimed they had not been properly consulted on the plans, which he called a ‘done deal’ even before the committee met to consider them.
The Labour MP was angry no affordable or social housing was planned for the Riverside House site, which he said went against the council’s policy for large developments to include a minimum of 40 per cent affordable housing.
Mr Western said: “Warwick District Council plans to sell its office site and use the land for the exclusive development of private housing and not council or social housing on the Riverside House site, contrary to its own and government planning policy, and in so doing setting the wrong precedent for private developers.
“In four short days almost 1,100 people signed the petition against the Riverside House development. The public are concerned about the lack of affordable housing and their concerns have been ignored.
“Public sector cuts mean that communities are losing children’s centres, social care is at a crisis point and all services are suffering. In such a challenging environment, many people tell me how surprised they are that the district council is proposing to build a new office.
“This is a travesty of decision making by the Warwick District Council leadership and will affect the local area for years to come.”
A group of residents opposing the application say they have been left shocked by the outcome and that the ‘battle is not over’.
A spokesman said: “Objectors are shocked not just by the decision, but the partisan manner in which it was reached.
“The approval of the council’s application is a clear breach of several planning policies, and sets a worrying precedent that future developers will be keen to exploit.”
Mr Western recently raised the matter in parliament. Click here to watch the debate.