Call for probe into Newark and Sherwood District Council conduct after decision to extend London Road Carpark deferred
A full probe into council conduct has been called for after a decision to extend a Newark carpark was deferred.
Newark and Sherwood district councillor Peter Harris said the authority's decisions relating to planning permission granted in 2017 for the extension of London Road Carpark needed investigating.
Last night, many members of the council's policy and finance committee spoke against the plans for the carpark, which would mean the felling of age-old trees, noting the community's outrage following three protests against the proposals.
Around 50 protestors attended the council offices, Castle House, prior to the meeting to express their absolute opposition to the destruction of trees and highlight the council's climate change commitments.
Planning permission for the works on land between Bishops Place and Newark Library runs out in November.
Datch Properties Ltd was the owner of Bishops Place at the time planning permission for the carpark extension was granted in 2017. The company signed a 25-year lease with the district council to develop the land in question for council-operated public carparking.
However, ownership now lies with JAJ Developments.
A JAJ spokesman said: "To be clear, we object to the destruction of the trees to the rear of our building and support those objecting to it."
Mr Harris said: "I've concern over the way in which things have been done. I do think that a full investigation should take place and the people who are accountable be held accountable even though some of them have lost their seats in the meantime.
"At the end of 2019, the Newark Civic Trust submitted comments to the planning committee expressing their objection to turning the land into a carpark. They were also concerned by the quality of the supporting information presented to the committee, which they felt and continue to feel contain numerous inaccurate statements.
"After submitted, they reviewed the planning finance documents which led to the decision of the works being approved and suggest these also contain a number of inaccuracies and errors.
"It is the people of Newark who oppose these plans. It is their town, but I expect this will not mean that much to you tonight. I hope we reconsider that at full council.
"We all know climate change is happening now and councillors approving the felling of mature trees will demonstrate to me and others that they either don't understand the issues or, more worryingly, choose to ignore them."
Member Tim Wendells said: "We've got a significant offer that's come in which changes the options to us, that's just been reported to us a few minutes ago.
"We've got this contractual obligation and we need to understand how this (offer) might change that, we need to look at value for money as a key issue as well.
"We should defer it to full council."
Paul Peacock added: "Obviously I'm in favour of keeping the trees and green space.
"But we need to be holding our hands up and take it on the chin because mistakes have been made — from the sale of the Municipal Building, I wonder if we did correct due diligence, through to contractual stuff — we've taken on a lot of risks because of the contract.
"It's going to be a big blow whatever we decide."
Committee chairman Keith Girling said: "Let me promise you, lessons will be learnt from this.
"At full council every councillor will have a chance to speak on it."
The decision was deferred to full council on October 12.
Council leader David Lloyd recused himself from last night's meeting on London Road Carpark because in 2017 he declared an interest and also took no part in those debates.
"At the time, my declaration of interest showed I was finance manager for a company called Appletree Ltd, of which Dan Derry is director and also director of Datch Properties.
"For clarity, I was a bookkeeper in a pub. Not finance manager of a property company.
"When the planning permission was granted, I made no representations.
"When I amended my interest having seized employment with said company, I left it there for absolute transparency.
"There have been bilious, unfounded, nearly libellous comments on social media about my involvement — they are baseless and incorrect.
"I won't have the council's reputation to brought down by insinuation against myself and therefore have not taken part in any debate."
Prior to the meeting, the Green Party's Jay Henderson said: "It has come to light that they had a legal obligation to create the carpark from the very beginning which doesn't quite add up because why would they then tell us they would reconsider something they were supposedly bound to do in the first place.
"A lot of people feel very frustrated, and they turned out to make their views very clear.
"This has been going on for such a long time and people from different political parties don't want them to be cut down.
"People are not being listened to and it shows they are not valued by the district council who, it seems, can not own up the mistakes they have made."
Jenni Harding, of Protect Newark's Green Spaces, said: "The message they are sending is they don't care about green space, trees or their climate emergency strategy. They could be taking a green space from the centre of town where there is hardly any green space already.
"The trees are ancient and have owl boxes in. They are showing that their priority is money over the future of Newark.
"The ticketing (tickets sold) from that carpark went down over the past year, and in the future with online shopping, public transport and electric transport, there isn't going to be the need for parking, this is purely for the building and it just stinks — it really does."