Newark environmental supporters accuse Council of not taking responsibility for their actions
A COUNCIL chief executive apologised from the heart as well as the head for mistakes of the past.
John Robinson, chief executive of Newark and Sherwood District Council, was addressing a meeting where the topic was the flawed decision-making over the sale of Newark’s Municipal Buildings and the botched attempt to extend the neighbouring London Road carpark.
The council’s audit and accounts committee met to present and debate the outcomes and recommendations of an independent report into the issue.
Many of the protesters who had been present at the land, known as Library Gardens, to prevent the felling of mature trees to make way for the carpark extension were at the meeting to hear the apology.
The trees were saved at the eleventh hour when the landowner offered a deal that meant the council, bound by a lease to build the carpark, could take less of a financial hit, but walking away still cost the taxpayer nearly £½m.
Mr Robinson said: “What I want to say, and I hope this comes across, is that it comes from the heart as well as from the head given the circumstances we find ourselves in.
“I am really sorry for the upset that it caused and I think it’s appropriate that I express that, it’s not a situation that we want to repeat.
“It is disappointing because on a regular basis the relationships we have with our community are actually really good and we have lots of constructive relations with all sorts of community organisations.
“This is something we don’t just push under the carpet but learn from.”
The investigation found the council had failed in a several serious ways, including due diligence; public engagement and consultation; robust decision-making practices; evidence of need for the parking spaces; making a sound commercial case and consideration of the environmental impacts of the proposed scheme.
Some of those in the public gallery were, however, still sceptical, despite the apology.
Many campaigners claimed the council was still failing to accept responsibility for its actions.
Campaigner Molly Chesney said: “They keep going back to 2013, but the decision about the Library Gardens was in 2019. There was a big chunk of time after an inaccurate business case was presented before the decision to sign that lease was created.
“Who’s focusing on that? Because there are people in this building, and in this room, who were on that decision committee and were taking no responsibility because that was the loss of £½m.
“Until the land had planning permission for the carpark, it was worth £75,000.”
Peter Harris accused members and the committee chairman of shutting down debate on the issue in the meeting.
“It is clear that they didn’t want any discussion and the chair refuses to discuss it. Clearly, it was a very party political meeting and they all ended up against that report,” he said.
“The fact that they’re not actually prepared to discuss it, it’s a concern.”
The next meeting to discuss plans for Library Gardens to become a community garden will take place in September.