Wirral’s council leader has suggested critics in other parties have been “disingenuous” over the controversial sale of Bromborough Civic Centre.
The civic centre including its library was one of many assets sold off by the council to pay back the £12m in emergency funding it has received from the government. It had previously been moving through a process called community asset transfer after it closed in 2022.
The sale was voted through by Labour and the Conservatives but slammed by the Greens and the Liberal Democrats as divisive and “a backward step that will sour relations with the council for a long time ahead.”
Green co-leader Cllr Jo Bird said, “This damaging decision shows Wirral’s Labour-Conservative coalition can mislead any community and sell any loved asset at almost any time.”
Liberal Democrat leader Phil Gilchrist added, “This is a kick in the teeth for all those who have worked so hard to bring life back to this building. It dashes their aims and hopes. It confirms my worst fears.”
During the recent local elections, both Labour and the Conservatives campaigned heavily calling for the library to be moved into community hands but a month and a half later, plans were revealed to sell it off. Both parties have since been accused of breaking their promises by the Green Party.
However, Labour council leader Paul Stuart hit back against the criticism arguing officers made it “absolutely abundantly clear” the library should be sold. He said, “There’s no point in us employing staff with expertise and then ignoring the advice that we have got on the table.
“I appreciate we had two community groups that wanted to take it over but we have to weigh out the decisions that we make that affect everybody in all parts of Wirral, not just in individual wards.”
Asked when councillors knew it was up for sale, Cllr Stuart insisted a list of assets the council wanted to sell had not been put to councillors before it came to committee on 12 July.
He said one of the first things he did as leader was request the list be brought forward “because it had gone on for too long,” adding: “In fairness to all political parties, we’ve asked for that list for a long time.”
He did apologise though “for any upset and harm and hurt that’s been caused” echoing other apologies “because that was never the intention.” He also said delays had given false hope and promise to a possible transfer.
Selling off assets was a requirement of the council accepting the emergency funding in the first place and on this, Cllr Stuart argued the Green Party and Liberal Democrats were being “totally unrealistic” and “disingenuous.”
He added, “The whole point of those assets being sold is to repay a debt, to replenish the reserves and hopefully have a pot of money for regeneration.
“We are not going to do that if we community asset every building we’ve got because that’s giving the asset over rather than selling it and in some cases, part of the community asset transfer is the council spending to bring the building or the land to a certain standard which comes at a cost as well.
“I think saying that we can community asset transfer everything is disingenuous. Honest? It’s a different interpretation and at times, I would best describe it as a truth told with ill intent, to give people the idea or thought it’s a political decision that we have to sell that asset when the community could take it over.
“I think yes there’s a truth there, the community can take some of our assets over, but it’s told with ill intent as you know we’ve got other priorities that would overrule those decisions.”
“I think we need to be realistic with our residents and accept there will be some difficult decisions. There will be some pain but hopefully we will be able to demonstrate that we can bring some alternatives forward as well, but we can only do that by freeing up some assets.”