The Liberal Democrat Opposition on West Berks Council has ‘called in’ the decision last week of the Conservative Executive to proceed with its planned redevelopment of the London Road Industrial Estate (LRIE). This will cause the decision to be reviewed by the Overview & Scrutiny Management Commission (OSMC) – back-bench councillors from all three parties – early in the New Year.
In their letter to the Council’s Director of Strategy & Governance, the five senior Lib Dem councillors cite four reasons why the decision should be reviewed:
- Concerns about lack of expertise and capacity to manage a project of this size
- Apparent lack of a ‘Chinese Wall’ between the Council’s roles as planning authority and landowner
- Need for a full environmental assessment of the site before development commences
- Fluid market conditions for both residential and commercial uses
Speaking after the Executive met on 17th December, Cllr Jeff Brooks (Thatcham West), Lib Dem Economic Development & Finance Spokesperson said: “We support the principle of redevelopment but we do not feel lessons have been learned from the recent review of the project management of LRIE. The proposals in the Executive report remain extremely vague and lacking in evidence on potentially very expensive site conditions. Such a long-running project – already 10 years with nothing to show for it and £1 Million lost already – must have cross-party support going forward and we’re not prepared to accept the plans as they are.”
Lib Dem Planning Spokesperson Cllr Tony Vickers (Newbury Wash Common) said at the Exec meeting that he couldn’t see how the public could be confident that the Council wasn’t making a special case in planning policy for its own land-holding, so long as there was no clear division between the Planning Department and Project Management. Currently the ‘dedicated’ LRIE project manager will be managed – albeit indirectly – by the same person who signs off the Council’s statutory Local Plan. “For too long, the Council has steamed ahead with its business-led plans in a planning policy vacuum. We believe now is the time for the Council to focus on producing the necessary planning policy framework with which all stakeholders can be confident.”
The call-in letter is signed by the Leader of the Opposition, Cllr Lee Dillon (Thatcham North East), Cllrs Brooks and Vickers, and Cllrs Erik Pattenden (Childrens Services, Culture & Leisure Spokesperson) and Alan Macro (former Planning Spokesperson and now Adult Social Care), and can be seen here.