Mon, 04 Jan 2021
THE brakes have been applied once more to the redevelopment of the London Road Industrial Estate (LRIE) after opposition councillors raised concerns.
The Liberal Democrats have called in the Conservative-run council’s decision to invest a further £345,000 to restart the project.
The council’s executive recently approved a phased approach to redevelop the site over the next 10 years.
Planning consultant Avison Young says up to 280 homes, 3,473 sq m of office space and 5,400 sq m of space for other businesses could be built there.
But concerns were raised about the council’s ability to manage the project, its conflict of interests and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the local economy.
The Lib Dems have called for the project to be paused until an environmental assessment of the entire site has been carried out, the fall-out of the pandemic is more fully understood and the appropriate project management structure and expertise is in place.
Shadow portfolio holder for economic development and finance Jeff Brooks (Thatcham West) 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 £1m lost already – must have cross-party support going forward and we’re not prepared to accept the plans as they are.”
A council-led review of how it lost a Court of Appeal case over procuring its chosen developer St Modwen found there had been no evidence of a clear business case and a lack of clarity over who was in charge.
The Lib Dem call-in means that the council cannot continue with the project until the decision has been debated by its Overview and Scrutiny Management Committee.
The council’s executive member for economic development Ross Mackinnon (Con, Bradfield) said: “It will delay things by a few weeks.
“It’s a remarkable coincidence that after the Liberal Democrats are removed from the project board these concerns are so significant, they have to call it in.”
Mr Mackinnon said Liberal Democrat councillors were removed from the project board because one had “issued public criticism of that board and the decisions made without telling colleagues”.
The Lib Dems said they lacked confidence in the management structure failing to provide a ‘Chinese Wall’ between the council as landowner and planning authority.
Shadow portfolio holder for planning Tony Vickers (Wash Common) questioned how the public could trust that the council wasn’t making a special case for itself while the dedicated LRIE project manager would be indirectly managed by the same person signing off the council’s statutory Local Plan.
Mr Mackinnon said a separate planning document would be drawn up for the estate.
Mr Mackinnon said the “evidence-free” claims were “very disparaging” to the council officers running the project and an environmental impact assessment would be carried out.
“At first glance, it seems like these reasons have been cobbled together in order to make a political statement,” he said.
“We’re not rushing into any decisions.
“Yes, we want to get started, but it is a really long process to get to where we want to be.
“It’s difficult to make head or tail of the criticism.
“On the one hand we’re moving too fast, but on the other hand we’re moving too slowly.”