Cabinet members slam fellow councillor over Queen’s Market ‘white elephant’ criticism
Richard Evans, local democracy reporter
A councillor who dubbed a multi-million redevelopment project in a seaside town a “white elephant” was accused of “not getting his facts right” by angry colleagues.
Prestatyn councillor Paul Penlington made the comments about Rhyl’s Queen’s Market project last week after costs for the scheme rose by £1.7 million. The Plaid Cymru councillor’s intervention clearly angered Denbighshire County Council leader Hugh Evans who took aim at a fiery cabinet meeting today.
They voted unanimously in favour of an updated business case after it emerged the council were around £1.7 million short of funding the first phase of the Queen’s Market Hall project.
The council claimed the extra expenditure is needed due to increased construction costs.
When complete the new market hall will include retail, food and beverage, contemporary market, office and residential space.
But the total cost of the first phase of the project has now risen from £10.9m to £12.6m. The first phase of the project was originally projected to cost £7.4m.
The authority will meet the shortfall from its own funds. Cllr Penlington, as well as labelling Queen’s Market “a white elephant”, went on to say the project had been mismanaged and even called on cabinet members to resign.
Today cabinet members hit back at Cllr Penlington, with Council leader Hugh Evans saying: “I would like to record my disappointment that a councillor from this council decided to run to the press to make a statement, which could really damage the reputation of this council, the project and Rhyl in order to enhance their own reputation.
“As leader of the council, I’m really disappointed in that. We are an open, transparent authority. We are open to scrutiny beyond cabinet, and there is always that opportunity for members to send an email, to ask a question.
“We don’t hide anything here. I’m extremely disappointed with that. It’s taken years of hard work to create confidence amongst the residents of Rhyl and potential investors to help us change the face of Rhyl to where it should be and not where it is now.”
Council leader Hugh Evans saying added: “A cheap shot like that is not helpful, and if that member is here today, I suggest he listens to the debate, reads the report and gets the facts right. I feel that strongly because there is no need for it, in what is quite a challenging agenda.”
Cllr Mark Young added: “Everyone can voice their concerns, but I do think It is quite wrong to say it’s mismanagement.”
Cllr Huw Hilditch-Roberts was also angry about insinuations that the project had been mismanaged.
“I have no issue with anyone going to the press,” he said. “I think if they want to take a stance, it’s right, but please get your facts right.”
Cllr Brian Jones added: “I do think it was very poor what that member did last week, bearing in mind, not so many moons ago, he was in another political party, the Labour party who were fully supportive of it (the project).”
Chief executive Graham Boase reminded councillors to ensure they maintained a degree of decorum.
Cllr Bobby Feeley defended Cllr Penlington. She said: “I do defend the right of anybody, in their own little patch, wherever it may be, to speak out, and we can’t squash the democratic right to speak, and we all defend our own patches in our own way when we get the chance.”
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