Ironic twist as new council leader set to agree £820,000 Wisbech land sale - the issue which prompted his cabinet resignation
16:00 22 May 2014
Fenland Council leader John Clark could be about to agree an £820,000 land sale in Wisbech – the issue which prompted his cabinet resignation last August.
Cllr Clark, then portfolio holder for finance, quit after allegedly being kept in the dark over discussions to sell the former gas works site to a local builder.
The deal for 70 homes on four acres alongside the Nene – of which 24 are for social housing- was said to be time critical to ensure the social housing element could draw down funding from the Government.
But Cllr Clark claimed to have been inadequately briefed on the sale, questioned its urgency, and then quit on his return from holiday.
Now, having won the leadership following the resignation of Councillor Alan Melton, one of the first projects on his desk is the delayed sale of the land.
Location Homes Ltd, the new company set up by Wisbech St Mary GB Construction, is yet to sign for the land.
And Circle Housing has only recently applied for funding from the Homes and Communities Agency to pay for the social housing element.
Cllr Clark said he had asked for a report on the proposed sale to come to Cabinet “since I want to know exactly where we are with the sale of the land.”
He said the agreement “is due to be signed, possibly in forthcoming weeks, although I am led to believe the number of homes has gone down.”
The leader said he “hadn’t got enough knowledge” to determine if he had been misled last summer but he remains emphatic he was inadequately briefed.
He had not been involved in pre-cabinet discussions to sell the land and was only briefed at the last moment.
Cllr Clark said he explained to officers that he would be “minded to approve” the transaction last August but because of his holiday commitment and not being able to take part in the debate at cabinet on August 29, he decided to quit soon after returning.
He now intends to allow the chairman of overview and scrutiny committee to attend a forthcoming cabinet meeting to re-evaluate the proposals for the Nene site.
“Agreements will be drawn at that meeting whether we accept it or it goes back to cabinet,” he said. “At this time I have no reason to think the deal will not go through.”
Circle Anglia has looked at an adjoining Nene site owned by Transco which cabinet has been told is contaminated but could be made suitable for another 22 homes.
However officers say Transco is “very reluctant to reduce the value of the land to reflect the remediation works required”.