West Lindsey District Council under fire as Whitton’s Gardens Hotel row continues

Liberal Democrat members are against the council's plan to sell Whittons Gardens.  Pictured is Whittons Gardens situated next to the River Trent  G121001-1f
Liberal Democrat members are against the council's plan to sell Whittons Gardens. Pictured is Whittons Gardens situated next to the River Trent G121001-1f

West Lindsey District Council has denied a ‘conflict of interests’ with its handling of the Elswitha Quarter development and say they’ve called an audit to look over their running of the plans.

Their decision-handling process of the plans for a 50-room hotel, a seven-screen cinema, restaurant, shops and more has already been the subject of a Judicial Review which was rejected by the High Court who said the review had ‘no merit’.

Now it has come to light that WLDC have called in Audit Lincolnshire to look into the governance of such matters.

WLDC Chairman of the Audit and Governance Committee Coun Sue Rawlins said: “We have agreed to review our processes regarding our investment decisions generally.”

“To this end, West Lindsey District Council has asked Audit Lincolnshire to undertake an internal audit of the processes applied when reviewing commercial projects, including the Elswitha Quarter.”

Several councillors have also questioned WLDC’s use of Banks Long and Co as ‘the one and only’ chartered surveyors used to assess Whitton’s Gardens - with some arguing that their working relationship with Premier Inn creates ‘a conflict of interests’.

Coun Rawlins continued: “Banks Longare retained by the Council and advise it on property matters.”

She added: “We have taken three valuations from Banks Long with regards to this site. It is not uncommon for professional firms, such as Banks Long to deal with more than one client in respect of the same project and have internal processes in place to deal with any potential conflicts of interest.”

A spokesman from Banks Long and Co added: “We have only given valuation advice to the Council is our capacity as professional advisors. We acquired some investments in Premier Inn but this was not in Gainsborough and some years ago.”

“We currently have no dealings with Premier Inn.”

Last week, The Standard also reported that West Lindsey District Council held a special meeting the hotel plans but the public were not allowed in.

Speaking against the decision, Coun Geoff Wiseman (WLDC representative for Middle Rasen but who lives in Gainsborough) said: “The meeting was a total joke. Myself and a number of other councillors fought for the meeting to be open to everyone, but we were refused.”

“The whole thing was absolute rubbish - not everything was discussed and not enough detail about anything was given, which really isn’t good enough for a meeting that took two months to set up.”

He added: “My concern is that the land on Whitton’s Gardens was given to the people of Gainsborough. I and many other councillors believe that they need to give a referendum to the people of our town to see what they want done with their land.”