‘Secret’ report into controversial Harborough housing scheme should be made available to all councillors, demands senior member

A ‘secret’ report into a highly-controversial housing scheme in Market Harborough should be made available to all district councillors, a senior member is demanding.

By Red Williams
Tuesday, 14th June 2022, 4:40 pm
The council paid £920,000 of taxpayers’ cash for a three-bedroom bungalow and its land to help seal the new Naseby Square housing complex on the town’s Southern estate.
The council paid £920,000 of taxpayers’ cash for a three-bedroom bungalow and its land to help seal the new Naseby Square housing complex on the town’s Southern estate.

Cllr Phil Knowles says the Harborough District Council investigation into the multi-million pound Naseby initiative has to be shown to the full 34-strong authority.

And now the veteran councillor has put down a motion to the full council meeting on Monday night (June 20) as he steps up his one-man campaign for total transparency.

Cllr Knowles is acting after the council forked out £920,000 of taxpayers’ cash for a three-bedroom bungalow and its land to help seal the new Naseby Square housing complex on the town’s Southern estate.

Cllr Phil Knowles says the Harborough District Council investigation into the multi-million pound Naseby initiative has to be shown to the full 34-strong authority.

The bungalow was valued at just £303,000, less than a third of the sum paid, on property website Zoopla, the Harborough Mail revealed in April 2021.

Today Cllr Knowles, who leads the Liberal Democrats on the council, told the Mail: “This is a critical battle for me on two levels – practically and on principle.

“I strongly believe that every one of our councillors has a right to be able to read this vital report into a very serious and significant issue – the Naseby Square redevelopment.

“The integrity of our members is beyond question,” insisted Cllr Knowles.

The council paid £920,000 of taxpayers’ cash for a three-bedroom bungalow and its land to help seal the new Naseby Square housing complex on the town’s Southern estate.

“And they should be trusted to study this very important enquiry for our town 100 per cent.”

The in-depth report emerged at a meeting of the council’s powerful Audit and Standards Committee on Wednesday March 2.

The study into the council’s handling of the Naseby Square project alongside Platform Housing was initially seen by only four councillors after the council asked a Queen’s Counsel (QC) barrister for advice.

They were the council leader Cllr Phil King, deputy leader Cllr James Hallam, Audit and Standards Committee chairman Cllr Paul Bremner and his vice-chairman Cllr Amanda Nunn.

Protesters at the Naseby Square housing complex

Councillors and any members of the public who were sitting in the public gallery were excluded when this report came up.

“They were kicked out to put it bluntly,” said Cllr Knowles, who himself sits on the seven-strong committee.

“Online coverage of the meeting was promptly turned off so that it couldn’t be viewed by the public.

“I was dismayed by this to be honest.

“The report has now been shared with the rest of us on the Audit and Standards Committee.

“But it has been made clear to us that we cannot discuss the contents of it with anyone else.

“I’ve not even been able to talk about it with my fellow Liberal Democrats,” said Cllr Knowles, who’s served on the council for 23 years.

“I’m not even permitted to get my own legal advice about this piece of work.

“The Naseby Square development affected a lot of people in Market Harborough one way or another.

“It’s a very serious issue.

“And in my view every one of our councillors has the right to know what has gone on here.

“Members are being asked to accept the recommendations from the Audit and Standards without having seen the report, listened to the debate or been able to understand the basis for those recommendations.

“Surely if councillors are asked to put their names to council policies and decisions then they must be in possession of the full facts,” added Cllr Knowles.

“After all, it is the councillors’ names on the ballot papers at election time.

“They are accountable to the electorate for the decisions and policies of the authority and the councillors’ own stance on those decisions and policies.”

The Liberal Democrat chief is asking councillors at Monday night’s meeting to vote to instruct “officers to make a copy of the full report to Audit and Standards of March 2022 immediately to all members who express a wish, in writing, to see the documents.

“That these copies be made available on a confidential basis to members so that when commenting, accepting or amending any recommendations from Audit and Standards they do so having access to all of the information.

“Where and as necessary council officers be asked to address any delegation issues that might restrict or impact on the delivery covered in points one and two.”

Cllr Knowles told the Mail: “I just hope that we can have a full and honest debate about this at the full council meeting.

“This goes well beyond party lines and boundaries.

“I’ve also put down a question asking council leader Cllr Phil King how many times this scenario has happened in our council’s history – because I can’t recall it happening before.

“This is very rare.”

This afternoon Cllr King told us: “This motion will be considered and debated at our meeting before a decision is taken either way.

“I will be voting against it.

“As leader I received legal advice from a QC advising us that we didn’t have to share this report with all the members of our council.

“That’s all I can say on this matter before Monday night’s council meeting.”

Cllr Paul Bremner, who heads up the Audit and Standards Committee, said: “We received the QC’s advice and we followed it.

“I cannot say any more.”

Harborough council wrapped up the deal to sell its land at Naseby Square, off Stuart Road, for £1.4 million to Platform Housing Group earlier this year.

The major housing set-up, which already owned adjoining land at the site on the Southern estate, now aims to pump millions of pounds into building 38 “affordable homes”.

The tenants of 13 bungalows set to be demolished at Naseby Square have already been moved out and found new homes.

The scheme to radically rework the traditional community hub – which dates back to the 1950s – has sparked fury and passionate protests in Market Harborough since it blew up in 2018.