Defeat for Brentwood Council leadership as it loses vote on Town Hall

Brentwood Town Hall will be refurbished and maintained for council use following dramatic scenes on Tuesday night which completely divided the ruling Conservative Party.

Eleven Conservative councillors joined with opposition parties to vote for an amendment which the leadership warned against.

The amendment put forward by Cllr Russell Quirk (Conservative) guarantees that the Town Hall be retained for council use - with the unused parts of the building leased out - was narrowly approved by 19 votes to 17.

There were huge cheers from the public gallery as the result was announced.

Leader Louise McKinlay (Conservative) had called on members to leave open the option of moving to a new building adjacent to the Ingrave Road one – but didn’t carry the support of her party whose internal disagreements were publicly aired.

During the debate Cllr Quirk called deputy leader Roger Hirst (Conservative) “disingenuous” over figures on refurbishment.

Conservative councillors lined-up to join in the criticism of the Town Hall plans.

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Lionel Lee said: “In my 18 years as a councillor I think this has been the worst consultation over a major project.”

William Lloyd said: “My house is adjacent to my garden but I don’t want to live in my garden. If we miss the opportunity (to keep the building) it will not come back; this is our last chance.”

Gordon MacLellan (Conservative) objected to the calls for an urgent decision and backed the administration.

He cited the statement of a council officer who warned against risking using council reserves to fund the refurbishment. He said: “If you have any responsibility to your heirs you will not support this motion.”

Quirk continued the discussion on Twitter as Cllr McKinlay summed up before the vote. He said: “Louise Mckinlay speaks to keep options open as regards selling the Town Hall. I’m not buying that.”

Former Liberal Democrat councillor Karen Chilvers predicted online that there will be a leadership bid within the Conservative Party “within days”.

After the meeting Cllr McKinlay told the Recorder: “The proposals that I put forward were based on public consultation and professional opinion, to ensure taxpayers were not left with a massive financial burden.

“However, we now need to focus on what was voted for and as leader of the council, it is for me to ensure that this is done in the most effective and efficient way.

“I am setting up a Town Hall Delivery Group to ensure that any solution is not costly to Brentwood residents, and will be asking Cllr Quirk to lead on this.”

LibDem leader Cllr David Kendall, said: “In my 19 years of being a councillor I can’t remember a night quite like it. But cross-party we’ve made the right decision for the people of Brentwood and that’s all that matters.”

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