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Scrutiny Committee Attempt To Handcuff Lead Member Over Waterworld

NOTE: This content is old - Published: Wednesday, Feb 18th, 2015.

Wrexham Councillors tonight rejected a call to back proposals to not replace Waterworld, and attempted to limit the Lead Member’s further actions.

In an abnormal meeting, members of the Council’s Scrutiny Committee were asked to back plans to reject building the previously intended replacement for Waterworld due to an £8.9 million ‘hole’ in the overall £12 million costs.

Not only were proposals rejected as the committee were ‘not in the position of the full facts’, but councillors went one step further approving a resolution to recommend that the Lead Member should not take a scheduled report on the topic to the forthcoming Executive Board meeting.

Due to an acrimonious interpretation of a meeting last year revolving around decisions regarding Plas Madoc Leisure Centre, the committee went further and even stated what they recommended if the Lead Member ignored their resolution and took the report forward regardless.

The meeting was set to debate the plans for Waterworld and a potential replacement leisure facility, with consultants on hand to present the proposals to the committee. However prior to the meeting Councillor Hugh Jones revealed that such plans were ‘unaffordable’ and therefore he could not support them, and asked the committee to agree.

Due to this change from redevelopment plans a condition survey of Waterworld is going to take place, with no plans to close the centre.

At tonight’s meeting Wrexham.com used some ‘Google-fu’ to discover the full report presented by Consultants that we believe was not previously known in the public domain – you can read it via this PDF after spotting it in the hands of the consultants. (The discovery of this report has prompted some debate on the Wrexham.com Forums, you can read the debate here…)

The report highlights the options considered, data behind the reasoning and the final conclusions. The document explains that the favoured option would be to continue running Waterworld while building a new leisure centre on the Crown Building site, then sell off the old Waterworld site to help cover costs.

Councillor Hugh Jones, the Lead Member, was keen to stress that it was not possible to support a new Waterworld due to costs, saying: “This is clearly not a place any of us would want to be in if we had a clean sheet, we want to be aspirational, but for that we need aspiration and money.

Explaining what has changed since the Plas Madoc decisions last year and associated Waterworld discussions he said: “Not least Plas Madoc is now open and flourishing thankfully, Total Fitness is opening a major facility with three types of water, the amount of savings we have to make was £34 million and is now £45 million over the next 3 years.

“Quite significantly when the first business plan was agreed the £400,000 per annum savings we were going to make due to the closure of Plas Madoc was due to underwrite Waterworld, that has now gone”, saying they had been ‘taken up elsewhere’.

Cllr Jones concluded on the funding plans for a replacement Waterworld, “This leaves us with a £8.9m hole. It poses quite a financial risk and possible hole to this authority.”

The £400,000 Plas Madoc savings appeared to confuse some Councillors, who appeared to believe they had decided last year to ring fence the sum to help fund a replacement to Waterworld.

Councillor Phil Wynn asked ‘where the Plas Madoc cash has gone’ and critisied the late notification that it was no longer possible to use that money, saying he was ‘totally frustrated’ and that ‘we could have acted much sooner with some honesty’.

The Council’s Head of Community Well-being and Development Lawrence Isted replied: “This information was made clear in the Executive Board in March 2014 that the members had a choice, they can invest the 400k in replacement to Waterworld, or seek alternative funding mechanisms.

“Its not me as head of a department saying ‘I need 400k for something’, it is in the reports. I reject that members have been deceived in some none clear decision, it is clear, it is in the reports”.

The Chairman asked Mr Isted: “Was the Lead Member clear at the time?”

Mr Istead replying that yes not only was the Lead Member aware, but he was also ‘aware of the report and signed it off.’

The former Lead Member Councillor David Griffiths was handily at the meeting and was invited to speak at this point, and said: “I am not going into who said what, I am going to say what my true belief was, and that is that the money saved from closure of Plas Madoc was to be used to generate and sort out a new Waterworld, and a new building on Crown Buildings.”

Referencing Morecambe and Wise in his view on the thoughts expressed on the meeting from twelve months ago, he said “It is the right notes but not the right order”.

Stating regardless of recommendations and minutes he was ‘not moving from that’ adding ‘I have had a shock to hear this’, referring to the £400,000 no longer being available.

Councillor Alun Jenkins and others followed up making points over their belief on the outcomes of the meeting from last year, with several looking up the agenda and report PDF’s on their iPads. Debate continued regarding what was said at the historic meeting, and what the inferred beliefs were based on the debate.

Mr Isted observed: “Minutes are a record of what was said. The reports contain the recommendations of what we do. It was to identify options on funding replacement facilities, it asked us to identify how we can fund this.”

Councillor Cameron said: “For me the minutes are just as important if not more important than recommendations. They are the reasons for why people have voted. If we don’t take notice of the minutes what is the point.”

In a bizarre but thorough situation the Scrutiny Committee was advised line by line of what occurred at the meeting back last year, with the meeting tonight told the report in 2014 explained the consultants provided information on how certain funding could take place.

The question posed back in 2014 was if the Council should invest in Waterworld using the current savings, or if savings should be made and alternative funding explored.

Councillors debated the issue, and appeared to be under the impression the vote had gone to ensure the £400k Plas Madoc savings would be used for a new Waterworld, rather than the exploration work of other options that has since taken place.

Councillor Jenkins was unhappy with the new interpretation of the year old meeting results, saying it was clear then that the then Lead Member Councillor Griffiths was ‘justifying Plas Madoc plans by saying we are preparing a state of the art replacement in the centre of town’.

Due to the dispute he added: “We need to be a lot more careful of how we minute”, and saying he believed an error had been made: “There was a clear lead that we would want to use savings in this way and it was not minuted”.

Councillor James Kelly struck an end to the sub-debate stating: “It is bit late to be questioning minutes that have already been ratified” suggesting that business move on, ‘we need a Waterworld, so lets all swim in the right direction.”

The Committee rejected recommendations proposed to them by the Lead Member, aside from noting good work that has been done, opting to put into place their own new resolutions that will not only defer any recommendations on Waterworld being made until the condition survey report is brought back to them but also adding in a request that an all member workshop is held.

The reasoning stated by several councillors was that the future of Waterworld is a ‘huge’ decision and therefore should involved all 52 elected members.

The new recommendations also included a thinly veiled order to the Lead Member to recommend that he does not present a scheduled report to the Executive Board next month,

Mr Istead injected some humour into the serious business after several attempts to write the amended resolutions failed (not aided by the fact Cllr Wynn could not access his email for prewritten ones) asking for them to be re-read ‘…since minutes are important!”.

Perhaps harking back to earlier in the meeting on their lack of confidence in events last year some Councillors attempted to make further restrictions, including an attempt to block consultants being used until it was pointed out they were already used, as they were sat in the room and had taken part answering Councillors questions.

An attempt to add a resolution to the report that was not to be taken was rejected, after it was observed that it would be impossible to make such a recommendation if the report would not exist.

Mr Istead helpfully pointed out: “This Committee will recommend the lead member shouldn’t take it (the report), but he may take it, you need to be clear.”

Thus the Committee debated if they could recommend to the Executive Board to reject the report via a recommendation in the very same report.

A way forward was finally found, with a recommendation from the Committee that if the Lead Member submits a report prior to the Scrutiny Committee holding their deferred meeting that the option of setting up a ‘Wrexham Trust’ is also explored.

The idea of a ‘Wrexham Trust’ has been mooted since news of the town’s libraries possibly being handed to a South Wales trust as part of the ongoing cost savings by Wrexham Council. Wrexham.com is told that the aim is an overarching local trust being preferred by some Councillors which would then take control of other services, often unrelated, such as the libraries and leisure services.

Our Live Tweets from the meeting…

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