A group of councillors have complained that the leadership of Leeds City Council is railroading through a decision to back a new funding agreement for the redevelopment of Headingley stadium.
Members of the council’s executive board are set to rubber stamp the decision at a meeting this coming Wednesday, with a stipulation that the decision be exempt from what is known in council-speak as “call-in”.
That means bypassing the normal procedure whereby councillors with reservations can ask to have the decision discussed at one of the council’s watch-dog scrutiny boards.
In a letter to the council leadership published on Facebook last night, the councillors – representing the Morley Borough Independents, the Green Party and three (former Labour Group) Independents – say there are “anomalies (in the deal) that we feel are worthy of scrutiny”.
Under the £35m-£40m deal Leeds City Council is going to take out a 40-year head lease on a new North-South stand at the stadium from an unnamed financial services company who will pay for the stand to be built. It will then sub-lease the stand to Yorkshire County Cricket Club (YCCC) and Leeds Rhinos over that period.
Why should the council take on the lease?
The letter asks:
“Why are LCC (Leeds Council) head leaseholders? If the investor does not believe that either Leeds Rugby or YCCC are in a position to hold the head lease then why should we?
“Are we convinced that a private members club, YCCC – already with 24 million pounds worth of debt – will be in a position over the next 40 years where literally anything could happen RE test status will be able to honour their debt to us over that amount of time?”
“This is not about any deal not progressing but we do collectively feel as members of council that this is being railroaded through,” the letter adds.
“Essential part of democratic process”
The deal has been (and is still being) put together in a rush after an attempt to fund the redevelopment by selling off two plots of greenbelt land fell through earlier this year.
The reason for the speed is that the new stand has to be ready to host YCCC’s allocated matches at the 2019 Cricket World Cup (income that, with over £24m in debts, it can’t afford to lose), so building work has got to get underway in June this year.
It’s the stipulation that the decision be “exempt from call-in” that has the complaining councillors most concerned. They want it removed from the recommendations.
“We feel that the call-in process is an essential part of the democratic process and, in this case where the whole matter has been progressed very hastily, there are anomalies that we feel are worthy of scrutiny,” the letter says.
“The argument that time is tight, whilst valid, is only because the last set of proposals were so poorly constructed as to leave us in this situation and is, therefore, no reason to bypass any reasonable due diligence process.”
The letter ends by expressing the hope that “the democratic process and the protection of Leeds Council Tax payers will be observed”.
The party groups signing up to the letter have a total of 11 councillors, including former executive board member Cllr Mark Dobson, who left the Labour Group on the council in February this year complaining that “questioning decisions and requesting meaningful debate have proved impossible”.
None of the groups is represented on the council’s executive board. It will be interesting to see if the request is acknowledged.
There’s some background to this Wednesday’s decision in this earlier post.