THE sale of County Hall – and Cheshire West’s proposed move to the HQ building at a net cost of £15m to ratepayers – generated a visceral Labour revolt last Wednesday.
Fury erupted at a special council meeting Labour had secured to debate the controversial plan – which they say was ‘hijacked’ by the ruling Tory administration.
Labour leader Cllr Derek Bateman lodged an eight-point motion calling on the Conservative executive to think again over the proposed sale of the iconic building, opened by The Queen, to the University of Chester.
Angry Labour activists and their supporters, led by former county councillor David Robinson, demonstrated against the sale on the steps of County Hall in the late afternoon.
But it was late into the evening before people wearily sitting in the public gallery found councillors getting to grips with the issue – prompting Cllr Pat Merrick to declare the public were being treated with contempt.
With the clock ticking past 9pm, a furious Cllr Bateman vented his wrath. “This should have been the first item on the agenda, I feel insulted,” he protested.
After the meeting, a still fuming Cllr Bateman continued: “The Conservatives hijacked the whole agenda by putting on two other items hoping that the public would get fed up and go.
“They are still the Nasty Party.”
Earlier, Avril Coady said the sale made no sense. “Why the reluctance to consult and why the rush to sell?”
Parish councillor Eddie Jenkins wondered if it was already a done deal.
He insisted that ‘decisions should not be taken behind closed doors’ and added: “I feel we are entitled to know what is going on.”
Referring to the HQ building, Cllr Jenkins, a retired civil engineer, suggested: “Anything described as state of the art is not low maintenance!”
Mark Henesy pointed out that although the HQ building was said to be ‘new, modern and contemporary,” the same had been said of the now demolished police HQ, which had soon become outdated and had been universally condemned.
“County Hall has grown over the years to become a symbol for local government,” he suggested.
Cllr Bateman criticised an e-mail from influential Conservative Simon Harris suggesting the sale of County Hall had all-party support.
“This is not true,” he insisted and called on the executive to think again.
Describing County Hall as an ‘iconic’ building, Cllr Reggie Jones accused the Tories of ‘destroying our heritage’.
“None of the public speakers were in favour,” he pointed out.
“We do not need a new building across the road when we are having to find £19m to make hundreds of people redundant.”
He claimed ‘there are many Tories here who are opposed to this’.
Labour finance spokesman Cllr Justin Madders said: “The expenditure is not necessary and not wanted.
“Do we need it? No. Can we afford it? I don’t think we can.”
Council leader Cllr Mike Jones claimed there was ‘no evidence’ to support the comments by Cllr Madders or by Cllr Jones.”
He reminded observers the Labour government had ‘imposed’ local government reorganisation on Cheshire against the will of the people and with no consultation.
Although Labour has described the cost of the move to HQ as ‘huge’, Cllr Jones insisted: “There will be significant savings and the cost to council taxpayers at a worst will be nil.”
Cllr Bateman’s motion was defeated on a 12-47 vote with three abstentions.