A leading Labour councillor has said that the regeneration of Northampton town centre has been ‘outsourced’ away from the council to private companies.
Councillor Gareth Eales believes that the Northampton Forward board, which is overseeing the town’s bid for Future High Street funds, is circumventing democracy. He says that the two Northampton Borough Council representatives - leader Jonathan Nunn and cabinet member for regeneration Tim Hadland - have not been elected by cabinet or council.
In a motion he brought to full council on Monday (June 17), Councillor Eales stated: “The formation of Northampton Forward has been undertaken without a mandate from full council or indeed the cabinet. This entity is answerable to no-one - as such there is a democratic deficit and no accountability. The board of Northampton Forward is scheduled to be the sole decision-maker on any final bid that goes forward and the body that considers any public feedback.”
Speaking to councillors about his motion, he added: “It’s fair to say that Northampton has had its fair share of bad news stories recently. But the Future High Street fund, if successful, will be a good news story. It would be the biggest improvement to our town centre in a generation. And I welcome it.
“But the issue I have is the process of going about it. On the board of Northampton Forward, there are two borough councillors, and I don’t ever remember electing them to represent us. This council is the accountable body for regeneration, but we have no accountability because we have outsourced our decision making to partners. I have no objection to stakeholders being involved in shaping things, but until we are replaced it is our responsibility for the town centre regeneration.
“I find it hard to believe that anyone could be happy to see our responsibility outsourced to the private sector.
“I have been like an angry wasp around the leader and chief executive recently, I’ve spoken to them more than I have my own family of late. And, should this motion not be passed, I have managed to get our own backstop as you were, in that scrutiny would look at the process. But this is not enough.
“This chamber should be the ones deciding and rubber stamping regeneration.”
His motion called for council to nominate three Conservatives, two Labour councillors and one Lib Dem onto the board of Northampton Forward, and called for council to formally vote on any town centre proposals that are included in the bid.
The board, which includes Grosvenor Centre manager James Roberts, chamber of commerce chief executive Paul Griffiths, and representatives from Northampton BID, the University of Northampton and Royal & Derngate, is applying for £25million to transform the town centre.
But Conservative councillors voted down Councillor Eales’ motion, with council leader Jonathan Nunn - who is on the Northampton Forward board - saying: “There is no democratic deficit here as anyone can put their ideas forward. Northampton Forward is a sharer of people's views. It is this authority that will have the say on any proposals. Councillor Hadland and myself are accountable to you, we have been giving updates and we will continue to do that.
“I think that this model is appropriate and there is no need for NBC to dominate this. The town is not just the council’s. We should not seek to control it and should trust stakeholders and the men and women in the streets.”
A consultation on the town centre regeneration proposals is running until June 30, meaning members of the public can share their views on the scheme on the borough council’s website.