COUNCIL chiefs have refuted claims they failed to consult with the public over plans for their former Leamington HQ.
The denial came after MP for Warwick and Leamington, Matt Western, wrote to Coun Ian Davison, the leader of Warwick District Council, urging him to pause the imminent sale of Riverside House and allow the public to have a say on what they would like done with the site.
In the letter Mr Western said that, following a recent meeting with WDC’s chief executive, it had been brought to his attention that Riverside House was due to be sold by the end of this month.
He said the news had taken him by surprise and expected the decision would be equally surprising to the public.
Mr Western said he understood the plans had been considered by WDC’s cabinet in February, when the council was under Conservative leadership but had not been formally considered by the new cabinet or council since the change in leadership in May after the local elections.
A development brief for the site was consulted on back in 2021 but a final plan that involves the sale of the site has not been consulted on, he said.
In the letter, Mr Western called on Coun Davison to provide clarity on what alternative options were considered for the Riverside House site and why these were decided against, including the option of renting out the space as commercial office premises or retaining the land for 100 per cent council housing let at social rents.
Mr Western continued: “I know this revelation about the imminent sale of Riverside House will shock so many residents who will be hearing about this for the first time.
“I am deeply concerned by these plans and do not believe it is in the best interests of people across Warwick, Leamington, Whitnash and the surrounding villages.
“Councillor Ian Davison should pause these plans and open discussions for a consultation so the public can have their say on what this site should be used for.”
Riverside House, on Milverton Hill, was the base for 350 council staff but due to a combination of its size, running costs and more flexible working following the pandemic, it was no longer considered fit for purpose by WDC.
Coun Davison said that as Mr Western would be aware, WDC had been planning to move out of Riverside House for some years and had now taken up office space at Saltisford in Warwick, which would save a quarter of a million pounds a year.
He continued that the council had undertaken a ten week consultation in 2021 on the development brief for the Riverside House site which included sessions with town centre groups like Leamington Town Council, Clean Air Leamington, BID Leamington, Leamington Chamber of Commerce and residents, while an online survey indicated that 67 per cent of the public supported the development of the site.
Coun Davison added that Homes England were looking to buy the site and were committed to 40 per cent affordable housing, which was desperately needed locally, and any further delays incurred at this stage would seriously risk the whole process and be a massive waste of tax payers’ money.