Papers relating to the controversial purchase of a Bamber Bridge pub by South Ribble Borough Council will be made public “whatever [they] say,” the new leader of the authority has pledged.
At his first cabinet meeting since Labour took control of the council last month, Paul Foster said the future of the now derelict land could not be finalised until there was clarity about its past.
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Speaking to the local democracy reporting service after the meeting, Cllr Foster said an investigation launched late last year into the pub sale would also be published.
The building was bought by the council for £500,000 in 2012, on the basis that it would be used to provide access from the main Station Road to a housing development on the site of the old Wesley Street Mill.
However, when work finally began in 2017, the developer instead opted to gain entry to the site via Wesley Street itself. Last year, Countryside Properties said it made the decision after “lengthy delays…outside of our control” in its attempts to acquire the former pub land.
Cllr Foster told the meeting that he had asked the authority’s interim chief executive to provide the relevant documents to the new cabinet.
“We are minded, whatever those reports say, that we will make them public. If this council has made a mistake, we will put our hands up and accept that.”
“As far as I’m concerned, we cannot move forward with any development on that site until members of the public fully understand what has happened over the past seven years,” Cllr Foster said.
He also revealed that the developer will be approached to see if it still an option to use the land for access to its new estate – although he added that it was unlikely.
In the meantime, officers will draw up a business case for an affordable housing or mixed use development on the site – but without making a formal commitment to it at this stage.
A report will be brought back to cabinet at a later date, but a decision will need to be taken by January 2020 – at which point it risks losing the McKenzie Arms site’s share of a £362,000 government grant which has been given to the council to develop affordable housing in the borough.
Only one response was received by the authority into a public consultation into the future of the plot – that respondent wanted it to see it retained as the car park which it is operating as today.
Cllr Foster said he still has reservations about the suitability of the site for affordable housing, because the Station Road area remains amongst the worst for air quality in the borough. However, the latest figures, from 2017, show that it is within maximum legal levels of nitrogen dioxide.