Tory rebels call for referendum on civic complex

    A bird's eye view of the planned theatre (left) and civic complex (right)

    The civic complex development is to be debated by the Full Council as some Conservative members call for a referendum on the £72million project.

    The Borough Council is obliged to call the debate after an online petition by Save Our Park attracted 1,770 signatures. The trigger point is 1,000 names.

    As each stage of the development is subject to approval by the Full Council, there is a chance the debate, to be held next month, could result in council members accepting the terms of the petition and scrapping the project.

    It comes as the Times can reveal that a small number of Conservative councillors have called for a borough-wide referendum on the complex which will also see a new theatre built on the site of the Great Hall car park next to Calverley Grounds.

    Minutes from a meeting of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee published last week show several members expressed their desire to see the public directly vote on the scheme.

    “This will be the opportunity to focus on and discuss the facts”

    According to the minutes, Cllr Beverley Palmer felt: “In view of the costs and the momentous nature of the decision, the only way to get a view from the public was through a referendum.”

    Her sentiments were echoed by Cllr Bill Hills, who asked ‘when residents in the borough would be consulted’ on the cost of the development and the potential impact on Council services.

    In addition, Cllr James Hannan felt that residents ‘should be consulted’ while Cllr Catherine Rankin enquired as to whether ‘a referendum had been considered at all?’ To which council officer for Economic Development David Candlin, ‘advised that it had not.’

    The minutes go on to state that Mr Candlin clarified that there ‘would not’ be a separate public consultation on the development costs and that the decision as to whether the development would proceed or not was for councillors alone.

    However, Adam Chalmers, Head of Communities and Engagement advised that a referendum was ‘entirely within the gift of the Council’ but ‘would have a cost attached’.

    Cllr Thelma Huggett said the cost of a referendum ‘should be considered against the cost to the borough of not developing the town for the benefit of future generations.”

    The internal divisions are expected to surface again on July 26 when the Full Council debate the future of the proposed Civic Complex on Mount Pleasant Avenue and new theatre.

    Save Our Park representatives submitting the petition, which states its intention is to ‘force the council to consider again the alternatives’ to the scheme, will get ten minutes to present it to Full Council.

    Council members will then discuss it, decide whether they support it and how to respond to it. Options include taking no action or commissioning further work by sending it to the relevant committees.

    Petition organiser Chris Gedge said: “Save Our Park very much looks forward to the debate and hopes that this will be the opportunity to focus on and discuss the facts, which continue to be so elusive, despite around £5million of public money having already been invested in preparing for the project.”

    The Friends of Calverley Grounds has already demanded more transparency from the council over the proposal and warned the council not to ’hoodwink’ people into backing the project.