Prestatyn councillor hits back at cabinet over Rhyl’s Queen’s Market ‘white elephant’
Richard Evans, local democracy reporter
A councillor slammed by Denbighshire’s cabinet has hit back after a row about Rhyl’s Queen’s Market development.
Cllr Paul Penlington was criticised by Denbighshire County Council cabinet for calling the Queen’s Market development a “white elephant” and claiming millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money had been wasted.
At the cabinet meeting yesterday, cabinet members took it in turns to dish out criticism of Cllr Penlington for describing the project as “mismanaged”.
Leader Hugh Evans said he was disappointed with Cllr Penlington for “running to the press”.
The cabinet then voted unanimously to adapt its business case for Queen’s Market, allowing them to cover £1.7m of additional unplanned expenditure attributed to construction costs.
Cllr Penlington hit back at the cabinet members who had criticised him, including the leader.
“The fact that the cabinet chose to spend most of the discussion complaining about me expressing concerns on behalf of the residents of Prestatyn rather than actually looking at the increasing debts they are burdening them with speaks volumes really,” he said.
“Most cabinet members are already well-off businessmen with very generous additional remuneration as cabinet members. Whilst I won’t be as critical of them, as they were of me, it is demonstrative of how out of touch with the realities of most people’s lives they are.
“I’m not really concerned they chose to criticise me at length. I am concerned that people are facing the largest cost of living rise in decades, the highest tax increase in thirty years, and a combined council tax increase of almost 25% from this cabinet in the last five years.
“It was noticeable they never once referred to my concerns that people are struggling to cope already. Far more concerningly, they did refer to the uncertainty of future funding needs for this project and hinted it may yet require further funding at some point.”
He added: “The many thousands of people in Prestatyn choosing to heat or eat in the next few years, or the 1,500 children in a crumbling Prestatyn High School, with no chance of a new building from this cabinet, will not be impressed with a shiny new market hall in Rhyl. They will however be expected to pay for it for many years to come through ever-increasing council taxes.”
When complete the new market hall will include retail, food, beverage, market, office and residential space. 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.
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 – an increase of £1,698,220. It was originally intended to cost £7.4m.
The council says additional funding is needed because the cost of construction has increased by 25%, due to a rise in the cost of labour and materials globally.
Cllr Penlington’s criticism however did not amuse the Cabinet, 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.”
Cllr Paul Penlington had slammed the plans last week on hearing Denbighshire needs more finances to complete the project.
“This continued mismanagement of Denbighshire finances is sickening,” said Cllr Penlington.
“At a time when the cost of living has increased more than ever, Denbighshire County Council are increasing council tax and regularly adding extra charges for public services like bins.
“It is appalling that they are now seeking to pile millions of pounds more debt onto the residents of Denbighshire. This white elephant is already at least 57% over budget, and Denbighshire County Council contract management, in all areas, has been slated by auditors several times in recent years.
“Any cabinet member with a sense of honour would resign. They have failed the people they are supposed to represent, and all they have achieved is to put Denbighshire into well over £200 million pounds of debt that residents will be expected to pay for many years. At the same time, they repeatedly refuse to consider funding a new school in Prestatyn. I wonder if this is the real reason why.”
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