Plaza West to be the New Reading Civic Offices
Tonight the full Council met to discuss the proposal to move out of the existing crumbling Civic Offices and to chose between the Plaza West building (in Bridge Street, next to the Oracle) or the RG2 (former Yell) building. Both buildings have merits but it was very clear that Labour had already made up their minds, having announced their position a week ago to the press. Cllr Lovelock tried to make out tonight that it was intended to be a cross-party briefing to the press but she failed to explain why it became a forum to announce the Labour Group’s decision on which property to back.With a total cost to the Council Tax payers of about £60m, this is a very important decision at a time of stretched budgets and shrinking grants from Central Government. Conservatives had expected to continue the cross-party approach of the Civic Board and we were expecting a good debate on the respective merits of the two buildings but instead Labour turned the Council meeting into a charade by making it clear that they would use their majority to achieve their pre-announced decision.
Conservatives therefore moved an amendment to Labour’s motion tonight:
“Insert after “This Council” the following text:
1. Deplores Labour’s public statement of a decision in favour of Plaza West in advance of tonight’s Council debate and
2. Calls for the Labour Group to apologise to the people of Reading for their arrogance and the traducing of the cross-party democratic process which had existed through the Civic Board
3. Notes the comments of a Labour Cabinet member that “when in power you can do what you like”
Renumber the succeeding paragraphs to follow on from above.”
Typically, and rather proving our point, Labour closed down debate on our amendment which was then defeated.
Conservative Leader Cllr Tim Harris said, “It is not lost on us that Labour’s first decision on resuming majority control of the Council was to pre-empt a decision of the Full Council which involves borrowing millions of pounds which the Reading Council Tax Payers will have to repay. The Civic Board was established to ensure cross-party involvement in the process to identify new Council Offices, culminating in a decision between the final two.”
Deputy Leader Cllr Jeanette Skeats said, “Had the Conservatives not objected to Labour’s previous plan for a new building in Hosier Street the Council would have been committed to borrow around £120m over the next 60 years. We have worked with the Labour Group over the last few years to find more cost effective options and to narrow them down to a final two options. Tonight we were to discuss these and come to decision but it seems that the decision has already been made!”
In the end Labour, with Lib Dem, Green and Independent support, voted to spend around £60m to purchase, fit out, and then move into the Plaza West building. Only the Conservatives did not support the motion. We support the need to move out of the present Civic building but we cannnot support Labour’s pre-empting of the proper discussion and decision making process. We therefore abstained.