The Scrutiny Commission (OSC) meeting of 20 June 2023 considered, amongst other matters, “the call-in of the Executive Decision (EX4332) of 23 March regarding revised costs and permission to sign the development management agreement for Newbury Sports Hub”, commonly known as “Monks Lane.” You can see the minutes here (item 8).
The resolution passed at the end of this item was “to refer the matter back to the Executive for further consideration, particularly in respect of the following aspects: legal costs incurred by the Council; costs incurred by the Rugby Club; any penalty fees associated with not proceeding as planned; implications for the new Leisure Contract; and the need to revisit the Playing Pitch Strategy.”
At the OSC meeting on 14 September 2023 (more information on which, including a video of the event, you can see here), the Chair, Carolyne Culver, made some opening remarks regarding this matter as well as some other points about how the documents relating to OSC meetings are prepared and circulated. The text below is essentially a transcript of her remarks, the only changes being to adjust some phrases and constructions to reflect usage for written rather than spoken words.
One of the actions we had from the last meeting resulted from the discussion we had about the call-in for Monks Lane. One of our resolutions was to ask for costs related to that project. That isn’t in the grid: however, I have consulted with the Director of Finance and other officers about this. My understanding is that the figures are going to go to Executive in November and won’t actually come to this meeting, and that is following due process
As you are no doubt aware, after the meeting we had on the 20th of June I went to the subsequent Executive meeting and read a statement to say that I wasn’t happy with the paper that had gone from Scrutiny Commission to Executive. I felt that it conflated the content of the call-in, which the then Liberal Democrat opposition had made before the election, with the resolution that we made at that meeting. My concern was that we needed a true and accurate record for future reference so that when people go back and look at the document they know exactly what it was we discussed at that meeting.
It also came to my attention that the the paper wasn’t shown to me or the portfolio holder before it went to Executive. I would like to ask officers this evening, please, that if any papers go from this Commission to the Executive in future they get shown to me. If I’m unavailable, they should be shown to our Vice Chair, Councilor Boeck.
They also need to have the correct name of the officers at the top. I’m aware that several officers contributed to the drafting of that paper so these either need to have all of those officers’ names on or the name of the most senior officer signing it off.
Last week in my Capacity as Chairman of Scrutiny, I, the Leader of the Council, the Chief Executive and other senior members of staff received a letter from Mr Alan Pearce regarding the judicial review that he bought earlier this year. In his letter he requested reimbursement of his legal costs of just over a hundred thousand pounds. It’s incumbent upon me to let you know that I’ve received that.
He also made a number of other points. At the Western Area Planning Committee meeting concerning Monks Lane under the previous administration, we were told that the Monks Lane Sports Hub facility was going to be a replacement for Faraday Road. We then had a District Planning Committee meeting where we were told it was not going to be a replacement. Since then there have been two Executive papers saying it was to be a replacement while in the judicial review the Council said to the High Court it was not. As we we are here to make things accountable and transparent, I feel incumbent upon me as the Chairman of this Commission to point this out.
We will all have different views on this matter. It’s gone on and on and I’m sure a lot of people are fed up hearing about it – but the fact remains that it is not over. There’s still money in the capital budget for the project and the planning permission for Monks Lane is still in existence.
I therefore think this is something we need to return to in the future. It’s not our place to do it now because, as I mentioned, the costings are going to go to Executive in November. However, the Director of Finance has reassured me that if we as a Commission are not content with the discussion that happens at the Executive, we can review the project again. We can call witnesses as well, which could involve members of the public.
I will leave it there for the time being. I know that Councilor Dillon when he was leader of the opposition requested a call-in in January 22, I believe asking for a task and finish group with witnesses. I was going to ask him this evening what his view was on what I just said but he’s not here. Whether he concurs that that is still a good idea or not we will wait to see. I will be observing what happens at Executive. I will also look at the figures when they come through and will make sure that you, as members of the Commission, see them and have an opportunity to give your feedback. I think at a future meeting we need to decide whether or not we review this – as I said earlier, it’s not over.
She then asked if anyone had any comments on what she had said. No one did.