A Louth town councillor has blasted East Lindsey District Council’s plan to move its headquarters from Manby to Horncastle, at a cost of £8.25 million.
At the town council meeting earlier this month, Coun Andrew Leonard – who also represents the Louth Priory & St James ward on the district council – said he was ‘vehemently against’ the relocation plans.
The plans were approved by ELDC in October, and will include an education facility (working alongside Boston College) and a ‘public sector hub’.
ELDC has agreed to allocate £6.23m to the project, and is also seeking £1.52m from the Greater Lincolnshire Local Enterprise Partnership towards the total costs.
The current headquarters, in Manby, is expected to be sold off for redevelopment.
Coun Leonard said: “It’s a very interesting exercise in how to waste eight and a half million pounds of public money, in a plot that is barely big enough to site the whole project on, tucked away in a housing estate off a very busy junction.
“If it was private business money, you wouldn’t have even entertained that site.”
Coun Leonard said that the site was in the wrong place, too small, too expensive, and had no scope for development in the future.
“(The district council) are hell-bent on going there, come hell or high water,” he added.
Coun Leonard said that ELDC’s attitude is “it’s going to happen, get over it”, and that there is ‘horrendous’ traffic near the new site.
He concluded: “Louth is the largest town in East Lindsey. Why on earth would you move to a backwater such as Horncastle?”
Coun Pauline Watson asked whether high-cost relocation packages would be paid to staff members, of which ‘at least 60 per cent’ live in the Louth area, according to Coun Jill Makinson-Sanders and Coun Leonard.
Coun Leonard said that a consultation had taken place with staff, but added: “I’ve yet to find any (staff member) who actually wants to go.
“But, as with most things in life, the higher echelons want to go, therefore all those minions underneath are very reluctant to say anything for fear of losing their jobs or being side-stepped.”
After being approached by the Leader, ELDC leader Craig Leyland defended the plans, while Horncastle’s Mayor, Coun Fiona Martin, said that it was ‘ridiculous’ and ‘patently not true’ to describe her town as a backwater.
Councillor Leyland said: “I am exceptionally disappointed to read the negative, misleading and inaccurate statements by Councillor Leonard.
“Describing Horncastle as a ‘backwater’ is very disrespectful to the residents of Horncastle. It is worrying that Councillor Leonard has forgotten that he is an ELDC councillor responsible for strategic decisions made on behalf of the whole district, not just Louth.”
He continued: “The Public Sector Hub is an ambitious, well thought through project that will transform the way in which we are able to serve our residents and work with partners.
“The Mareham Road site provides the space we need to create a modern and more efficient office base for the council and a range of partners, with opportunities for future expansion as needed.
“Securing a partnership with Boston College will result in an further education college coming to central East Lindsey benefiting residents and business; and bringing part of our workforce to Horncastle each day will benefit the shops.
“We have actively engaged our teams in the plans for the new office and their contributions continue to shape the plans as they develop.
“Teams are also helping to shape how their services will be delivered in the future, recognising that we need to be more agile and flexible in the way we do business to both enable us to recruit and meet the demands of our residents.”
Following this response, Coun Leonard said: “Unlike Councillor Leyland and his followers, I am not politically whipped and therefore not gagged so I am free to judge every issue on its merits speak accordingly.
“As a local businessman, I have been approached by countless Louth and district residents, who view the spending of £8.5 million – on what is thought locally to be a vanity project – as showing poor business acumen, particularly when many of our community are still struggling financially.
“I certainly did not vote for this project.”