Postponed: closure of Covent Garden car park in Leamington now set to take place two months later than planned

The Covent Garden car park in Leamington
The Covent Garden car park in Leamington

Planned demolition work on the Covent Garden car park in Leamington has now been postponed meaning it will stay open for at least two months longer than expected.

The car park was due to close in January- as part of Warwick District Council's plan to build new offices, a larger car park and luxury apartments on the site - but is now set to close in March.

CGI of Warwick District Council's proposed HQ building.

CGI of Warwick District Council's proposed HQ building.

This has been causing grave concerns among the business community in Leamington town centre who think the loss of the car park could be catastrophic for them despite the council's efforts to put together and implement a parking displacement strategy to cover the 18 months in which Covent Garden will be closed.

Steph Kerr, executive director of BID Leamington which represents businesses in the town centre, has stressed how little time is left before the closure and has urged the council to postpone the work until a sufficient plan is in place.

Today, (Thursday, November 15) the council's leader Cllr Andrew Mobbs has made a statement regarding the progress of the planning stage of the overall project.

He said: "As you may already know the current timetable for the HQ project is for councillors to consider a report on the final decision on whether to proceed with the HQ relocation project at executive on November 28 and that a subsequent Council meeting will be held on either December 19 or January 3, to make any final decisions on funding the project.

"Those who attended the public meeting at the Spa Centre on Monday night, or watched online, will have heard our portfolio holder for finance, Councillor Whiting explain that the role of the three members of the executive who are on the Limited Liability Partnership (LLP) board is to ensure that the project not only delivers our objectives for new offices, a new larger car park and new housing but we get the best possible financial deal for our taxpayers.

"At our meeting with officers on Monday, the executive heard that the extremely thorough due diligence process that they are following has not yet been completed, that discussion are still underway with Public Sector Plc to finalise the precise structure of the Stage Two financial and legal agreements and the necessary legal, technical and commercial advice cannot be obtained until this has been fixed.

"Rather than ask officers to rush things to bring the report to the November executive meeting at all costs, we decided that the prudent and proper approach is to defer the consideration of the final report by executive, and we are now aiming for a date in January with a full Council, at a date to be agreed, in February.

"I also gave a commitment to local businesses at the breakfast meeting we held yesterday that we will not close the car parks until the car park displacement plan is finalised, has been widely communicated and all the practical support arrangements like new signage and rangers on the ground to direct people to alternative parking are in place.

"As the consequence of deferring the report will be that Covent Garden car park is now more likely to close in March 2019 than at the end of January this allows us time to ensure we have completed the work at the new car parks we are creating and have communicated widely and effectively.

"To that end I am pleased to advise that we are commissioning a local marketing business to assist us to get the message out that Leamington will firmly remain open for business throughout the closure period and remains the vibrant and exciting destination that we all know it is.

"You will also be aware that a motion was put forward at last night’s meeting of Full Council by Councillor Quinney (Labour) and Councillor Gallagher (Independent) that 'the council recommends to executive that it defers taking final decisions on the council offices Relocation project to proceed to phase 2, and seeks public approval at a District-wide referendum to be held on May 2nd 2019'.

"This motion was debated at length during the meeting but on being put to the vote was lost and therefore this will not be taken forward."

In response to the motion being voted down, Cllr Quinney said: "“The ruling group seemed unconcerned about the level of public concern and strong local feeling that the community needed to be given a proper say, whether through the proposed referendum in May or in some other way.

"Other parties focused only on urging the administration to reconsider the lack of affordable housing, and not the four or five other major concerns of local residents - including trees and inadequate car parking displacement.”

“We were particularly surprised that the Conservatives have not accepted the formal request from the Leamington businesses to defer the Covent Garden project by 12 months in order to permit full displacement parking facilities to be put in place.

"The bigger surprise of the evening was an announcement by Councillor Mobbs that there is still more work to do on the project and the decision which was expected to take place later this month, will be deferred until January now."