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Row over community hub proposal briefing

todayDecember 2, 2021 17

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A West Norfolk councillor claims he was denied access to a briefing on plans for a new multi-user community hub in Lynn, as it was only open to town-based representatives.

A public consultation was launched yesterday on the multi-million pound project which it is hoped will be sited in the old Argos building in the Vancouver Quarter.

Officials say all councillors have been given information about the project and will have the chance to take part in stakeholder events as part of the process.

King's Lynn's town centre Argos store. (53453824)
King’s Lynn’s town centre Argos store. (53453824)

But Green Party councillor Michael de Whalley says the affair is an example of a growing trend and he is worried about how public affairs are being conducted.

He said: “I feel that, during the Covid period, what has been touted as having to concentrate on the Covid response has created a culture that doesn’t seem to welcome scrutiny, that doesn’t seem to welcome openness.”

The briefing took place on Wednesday morning, shortly before the consultation was launched.

Norfolk County Council election candidates 2021 - Michael de Whalley, Green Party, Freebridge Lynn division (46429594)
Norfolk County Council election candidates 2021 – Michael de Whalley, Green Party, Freebridge Lynn division (46429594)

Mr de Whalley, who is one of two representatives for the Gayton and Grimston ward, believes the session should have been opened to all councillors as the facilities under discussion would be used by all residents.

He added: “It’s not just relevant to the councillors in the Towns Fund area.”

A West Norfolk Council spokesman said: “We are committed to ensuring we engage councillors, stakeholders, partners, and the public in the consultation.

“The session in question was specifically for local ward and divisional members as we know that this project is particularly relevant to their constituents.

“We have shared information on the project with all councillors, along with a video of the presentation, and we’re inviting all councillors to attend one of the stakeholder workshops in the next two months which are planned as part of the wider engagement and consultation.”

But Mr de Whalley described that explanation as “a bit strange” and said he feared authorities were “chasing the money” in their choice of projects to put forward for Town Deal funding.

However, West Norfolk Council leader Stuart Dark said he was pleased to see what he described as an “aspirational project” proceed.

He added: “He added: “It’s not just relevant to the councillors in the Towns Fund area.”

Officials also believe the hub will also make a significant contribution to town centre footfall, attracting as many as 350,000 visitors a year.

Other schemes proposed for the Town Deal funding include the redevelopment of the St George’s Guildhall complex, riverfront regeneration, work to turn vacant units into leisure, business or living spaces plus an active travel project.

Business cases for two of the deal’s priority areas – a post-Covid skills and retraining programme plus public realm works including additional tree planting and seating in the town centre – are set to be submitted early in the New Year.

Around £700,000 is expected to be invested in the two schemes.

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