Winchester City Council leader Robert Humby has resigned a day after communities secretary Eric Pickles waded into the row over Allies and Morrison’s controversial Silver Hill scheme
Humby is the second councillor to stand down over the contentious city centre scheme - his resignation following that of chair of the authority’s overiew and scrutiny committee Chris Pines last night (16 February).
Last week the High Court ruled that the council had acted unlawfully and had not followed procurement rules for the £165million retail-led project - a decision which prompted Pickles to slap a ‘hold order’ on the development.
Pickles’ Article 25 direction effectively stops any work on the project - and bans the local authority from issuing a decision notice on the planning application - while the communities secretary considers whether to call in the Silver Hill scheme.
Commenting on the resignations, local councillor Kim Gottlieb who brought the High Court action and had led the campaign against the scheme said: ‘I’m genuinely sorry that things got to a point where councillors Humby and Pines had to resign. They are both decent men and did their best to serve this city.
‘The problem they both faced is that, in respect of Silver Hill and, probably, other major projects, they had to rely heavily on advice they received from senior officers which simply wasn’t good enough, and sometimes misleading.
He added: ‘There are other councillors who need to do the honourable thing and resign their positions, but for the council to get its house in order the same applies to certain senior officers. Amongst the remaining councillors and officers, there’s plenty of talent and ambition to go forwards in a positive fashion.’
In his judicial review proceedings Gottlieb argued the council had broken protocol by allowing developer TIAA Henderson Real Estate to ‘radically’ change the terms of its development agreement - and the scheme - without carrying out a new, competitive tender process.
In June last year TIAA Henderson Real Estate approached the council asking for the original, already consented proposals to be modified, demanding that plans for a new bus station were scrapped, the number of homes reduced from 287 to 177, and all the on-site affordable housing removed.
These amendments were later accepted by the local authority and re-worked designs by Allies and Morrison approved in December (AJ 12.12.14).
Statement from councillor Robert Humby
‘Over the last week, I have reflected carefully on my position as leader of the council. I have come to the conclusion that the time has now come for me to step aside.
‘I stand by the decisions I and the cabinet made on Silver Hill. They were taken after consulting with officers and taking external legal advice.
‘I think it is also important to remember that the majority of decisions on Silver Hill were taken long before I was Leader.
‘Nevertheless, I was Leader when the court decision was handed down and so must take responsibility for that judgement.
‘I have always sought to act in the best interests of the city. I believe it is now in the best interests of Winchester and the Council for me to stand aside to allow a new Leader to take matters forward.
‘I hope this will allow for a new spirit of co-operation, and in particular allow the council to set a budget at its meeting on Thursday.
‘I have been proud to lead the city council and wish my successor the very best.’
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