THE Chairman of the Friends of Calverley Grounds has demanded more transparency over the proposed Civic Complex development and warned the council not to ‘hoodwink’ people into backing the project.
Nicholas Pope’s comments are a change of tone from his previous assertion that his organisation has ‘not yet taken a position’ on the scheme and comes after the Friends attended a consultation meeting on May 10 with the Boroigh Council.
Members of the organisation attended a protest in the park on Saturday (May 20) after a number of concerns arose from the meeting, which led to them dropping any qualified support for the project they may have previously held.
Among their concerns is the loss of approximately 1,000 sq m (10,760 sq ft) of park land to accommodate the planned office block, which they state will end up ‘looming over the park’ at five stories high.
There is also a fear that the current café in the centre of Calverley Grounds will be closed in favour of an eatery on the terrace of the new theatre – an option the group claim is being discussed by ‘a number of people’ within the council.
Mr Pope is particularly critical of what he sees is the council’s mismanagement and opaque handling of the project, claiming it is hard to assess the scale of the proposed development as ‘no good images currently exist’, rhetorically asking: “Are they going to be so big that the council do not want us to see these images?”
“Friends of Calverley Grounds have been trying to take a positive view on the development”
He suggested to the Times that the council are trying to ‘cut corners’ by asking his organisation to produce ‘Verified Views’ (legally binding drawings/documents) that are normally required for large developments.
But despite these documents not being produced, the council is progressing into the final detailed planning stage anyway, he explained.
Other promising sites for a new Civic Complex were dismissed too easily, he added.
Mr Pope concluded: “Friends of Calverley Grounds have been trying to take a positive view on the development, raising points and issues, but it seems we may be being hoodwinked into a situation where it becomes too late to change anything.
“We want more transparency. We want more information. When it feels that information is being withheld, decisions rushed without full consultation, and decisions being made behind doors, we need to challenge the council to change how they are progressing with this project.”
By coming out in opposition to the £72million Civic Complex project as it currently stands, Mr Pope is making common cause with the Save Our Park group.
He had previously accused Save Our Park, which set up a petition to oppose the scheme in April, of ‘extending the truth’ with the information they used to drum up support.
Petition organiser Chris Gedge, who also attended the rally on Saturday, welcomed Mr Pope’s support.
He said: “Nick Pope did a great job organising the rally on Saturday, with close to 60 people turning out at short notice.”
“To be clear, Save Our Park was never working against the Friends. We share some concerns – such as the loss of mature trees and building in and around a historic park – whereas others, like the cost, parking during construction and what will happen to the existing civic buildings and theatre, are specific to Save Our Park.”
A Council spokesman said they were being ‘open and transparent’ about the proposed civic development, adding: “We are going through a development process and it is not always possible to have instant answers to all the questions that people may have.”