Councillor Ross Mackinnon (Conservative Member for Bradfield), West Berkshire Council’s Executive Member for Finance and Economic Development, has expressed his deep frustration and disappointment in the party politics being played out by the opposition Liberal Democrat group over the development of the London Road Industrial Estate (LRIE) in Newbury to support local jobs and attract inward investment.
His comments come after a public statement critical of the current management of the project issued by the opposition group on Monday 10 November, despite there having been a Liberal Democrat member on the Project Board throughout the process.
Cllr Mackinnon said:
“This action has the danger of resulting in a fundamental breakdown of trust in the Liberal Democrats on the part of the Conservative project board members. Party politicking is one thing, but publicly undermining a Board that you have a member on - without making that membership clear - does little to encourage cross-party co-operation and runs the risk of cynicism about Liberal Democrat involvement in a number of other Boards and Task Groups.
“In recognition of the long-term strategic importance of the LRIE project, the Conservative administration offered the Liberal Democrat opposition a seat on the Project Board, providing an opportunity for cross-party working and collaboration to the mutual benefit of the council and its residents. The opposition are always keen to call for such collaboration, so we trusted that they would respond constructively and enthusiastically to the opportunity.
“Sadly, this has proved to be far from the case - in the ten meetings of the Project Board since December, the Liberal Democrat representative has been absent from seven of them (attending none from December 2019 until September 2020). Despite this apparent lack of interest, the Conservative members remained hopeful that the Project Board would ultimately benefit from the opposition’s presence.”
No-one on the Project Board - members or officers - had any advance warning that a public statement was to be made, and disappointingly the statement repeats well-worn accusations of historic mismanagement, demonstrating an inability to focus on the overriding aims of the project which are for the benefit of all residents and prioritise keeping West Berkshire open for business to support a strong local economy.
Cllr Mackinnon commented further:
“Had the bizarre criticism in the Liberal Democrat statement that stakeholders had been dealt with dismissively been raised in a Board meeting, we could have easily explained that all occupational tenants and the closest neighbouring tenants were contacted by Avison Young (the project consultants) for their views before, and after, the publication of the development brief, with the opportunity to take part in consultations with them and the project team, and that all leaseholders had been similarly contacted. Two public Zoom sessions were well attended, the first where Avison Young presented their development brief in full, and the second where I, alongside officers, took public questions for over an hour.
“Further, references in the statement to other demands, such as active travel routes and car club spaces, completely misunderstand the nature of a high-level development brief which is concerned with the overall viability and feasibility of the regeneration. Of course, the Liberal Democrats are well aware of this and are simply indulging in that old favourite Liberal Democrat trick of demanding in advance things that are probably going to happen anyway, then claiming their eventual inclusion was all down to them - clever political practice no doubt, but nowhere near responsibly representing the residents of Newbury and West Berkshire as is their professed desire.”