UPDATE Westminster debate after council approves controversial plan for new headquarters
PLANS by Warwick District Council to build a new headquarters have been debated in Parliament the day after they were controversially approved.
The council's own planning committee approved plans to build 170 homes on its current Riverside House base on Tuesday,9th January, and a separate application for a new headquarters, 620-space car park, offices and apartments further into the centre of Leamington.
Objections centred around the lack of affordable housing in either, which jarred against the council's own planning policy of 40 per cent on developments of over 11 properties.
The council says the sale of Riverside House will fund its relocation and will save it over £300,000 a year in running costs, and improve accessibility for customers and increase footfall and spend for local businesses.
But Warwick and Leamington MP, Matt Western, has led the opposition, previously calling on the district council to share premises in Warwick with the county council, also saying the district council should not be able to rule on its own planning application, even though it was submitted through a development partner, and criticising its failure to satisfy its own housing policy.
Mr Western has also secured a 30-minute debate in Westminster Hall on Wednesday. CLICK HERE to watch the debate.
Mr Western called on the government to block the project, saying it was not a priority in times of austerity, and called for the closing of a planning loophole that allowed affordable housing requirements to be dodged.
Speaking after the debate, Mr Western said: "I was pleased to host the debate, it brought the government’s attention to the scandalous decision by Warwick District Council to build themselves new offices at a time of austerity, and to include absolutely no provision for affordable housing in the associated housing developments.
"Although I appreciate the minister who replied [Jake Berry MP, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Ministry of Housing] was reluctant to comment on the specific planning applications involved, it was disappointing that he failed to engage with the question of whether Warwick District Council is right to use its resources to build new offices at this time.
"The wider issue that is affecting the whole country, of councils failing to meet targets on affordable housing due to the fact that developers can wriggle out of their requirements to include affordable housing in developments, as has happened here, was also not adequately addressed.
"This is the wrong development, at the wrong time, in the wrong place. Warwick District Council should look at alternative solutions, such as using other vacant space they own, and at the very least should meet their own requirements of providing 40 per cent affordable housing on these developments.”
However, the council's leader welcomed the approval of both schemes, insisting the relocation will save taxpayers money in then long term.
Cllr Andrew Mobbs said: “We are very pleased with the decision which will bring a major economic boost to Leamington and the wider district.
“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.
"Importantly this project does not require us 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 the 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.”