ELDC leader hits back after three ex-mayors demand £8.25m project is put on hold

Three former Mayors of Louth have hit back at the leader of East Lindsey District Council, after he accused them of ‘playing politics’ by insisting that the district council should halt all major projects - including the proposed £8.25 million headquarters and public sector hub in Horncastle - for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic.

The three former Mayors of Louth signed a joint letter earlier this week.

On Monday (March 23), the three former mayors - Coun Andrew Leonard, Coun Jill Makinson-Sanders and Coun George Horton - signed off a statement which calls for the district council to throw all of its efforts into supporting residents and local business through these ‘dark and difficult’ times, and put other projects on hold.

The statement says: “[The three former mayors] want to see all the district council staff’s energies directed to front line services. Projects should be put on hold.”

Coun Leonard is quoted as saying: “At a time when there has been a significant increase in domestic rates, many people have been in touch with us to plead for the council to hold back on its proposed move to Horncastle and put the [£8.25 million] into propping up our local industries and making sure our services are totally geared to the elderly and vulnerable.

An artist's impression of the proposed £8.25m headquarters and public sector hub.

“Officers’ time must be ring fenced to these priorities during this crisis and what will be a very long period getting back on our feet afterwards.

“This is a serious request in line with a crisis the like of which we have never experienced in our lifetime.

“Just like the Government, the district council must pledge financial commitment to the residents of the district and not to itself.”

The statement adds that all three councillors have had their businesses closed down following the latest government guidelines, and ‘know first hand’ the fear spreading through the business community in these uncertain times.

Councillor Craig Leyland

Coun Makinson-Sanders praised the work of the wellbeing teams and the back office workers of Public Sector Partnership Services who look after benefits and other support services in the district.

She said: “The team looking after IT is working hard to help East Lindsey staff to work safely from home, but with so many people using the internet for schoolwork as well as business it’s a huge challenge.

“And we must not forget the waste services teams collecting our rubbish every week who are battling to keep going.

“We need to keep day to day life going as well as we can.”

The three former mayors concluded: “This is about saving lives and saving businesses.

“We need the district council to rethink its priorities and put projects like moving on hold.

“These are uncertain times and the more we can do to reassure already pressured staff, residents and businesses the better.”

They recommend that residents who are concerned should contact their district councillors to ask them to support these moves.

This newspaper approached the leader of East Lindsey District Council, Coun Craig Leyland, for a response to the three councillors’ suggestion.

Coun Leyland replied: “Like everyone reading this letter, I’m horrified that a faction of Louth Town Council consider it acceptable to play politics at a time when tens of thousands of loved ones are at risk. All this council’s energies are directed at dealing with this crisis.

“They should be ashamed of themselves and sadly not for the first time either. It’s very disappointing.”

Coun Leonard hit back: “We are commenting as district councillors and not for the first time, because ELDC seems not to be listening to our residents.

“Given that all three of us have been a mayor of the town, and we have all had our businesses closed due to COVID-19, we are well versed with the issues in this town.

“We are only speaking out for our residents who are suffering like never before.

“Fortunately for the public, we are not politically motivated. We would not be doing our job as district councillors if we didn’t stand up for the people.”

Coun Makinson-Sanders added: “Coun Leyland seems to have misunderstood our concerns. We support our staff wholeheartedly and we are simply seeking reassurances from Mr Leyland’s team.

“Government grants will be coming through, and our businesses need to be reassured that there is sufficient staff who are fully focussed to administer these grants.

“They need to know the timescales. Our businesses are on a cliff edge, they have bills and staff to pay.

“The point we make on behalf of everyone at this unprecedented time is that we trust East Lindsey staff will not continue to work on the Horncastle move, when we should all be concentrating on helping our residents and businesses to get through this unique emergency.”