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Councillor's silence over £500,000 eco-centre loss branded 'a scandal'

PUBLISHED: 16:34 08 October 2019 | UPDATED: 16:39 08 October 2019

The opening of the EcoCube centre in 2012. Pictured is Chris Hill, centre, Broadland Council's head of economic development, with Kevin Heaton, right, director of Tilia Properties, and Shaun Catterall, Tilia contracts manager. Picture: Denise Bradley

The opening of the EcoCube centre in 2012. Pictured is Chris Hill, centre, Broadland Council's head of economic development, with Kevin Heaton, right, director of Tilia Properties, and Shaun Catterall, Tilia contracts manager. Picture: Denise Bradley

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A councillor's refusal to answer questions over the decision to give away the lease of a £500,000 eco-building has been branded a "scandal" and a "disgrace".

Broadland Council spent £340,000 leasing The Cube, an eco-centre on Rackheath Industrial Estate, in 2012 with a further £160,000 spent on associated costs.

But in 2017 the council handed the empty building over to the firm which built it - for nothing.

And now - after it emerged the councillor with responsibility for the decision refused to appear before an investigatory panel - members of the council's scrutiny board have hit out at the situation as "unacceptable", and claimed a "cover-up" had taken place.

READ MORE: 'Inadequate': Report slams council's failings over £500k eco-centre

The EcoCube was used as a training centre but did not get enough business. Picture: Denise BradleyThe EcoCube was used as a training centre but did not get enough business. Picture: Denise Bradley

Stuart Clancy, cabinet member for economic development, agreed to relinquish The Cube's lease to builders Tilia, after the council said it was unable to find a tenant.

And after an investigation into the lease handover was launched, a panel of councillors from the overview and scrutiny committee asked Mr Clancy for answers.

But at a committee meeting on Tuesday, October 8, where a report into their findings was discussed, it emerged he refused to address councillors to defend the disposal.

Liberal Democrat councillor Stuart Beadle, said: "I actually think it's a disgrace that we've got a portfolio holder who will not answer questions. It's not just unsatisfactory and unacceptable.

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"I think it's a scandal."

READ MORE: Council chiefs in dark over 'eco' building deal which could have saved taxpayers thousands

And Labour councillor, Natasha Harpley, said: "If they are still a councillor, how on earth are they declining to come in and answer questions - is that even allowed?"

But council monitoring officer, Emma Hodds, said the committee did not have the power to compel councillors to answer questions, but that the issue would be dealt with by the leader of the council.

She told the committee: "We cannot force people to attend - we can only request. It's with the leader and is an issue for him to deal with in his group."

But Conservative councillor Peter Bulman said: "The stable door comes to mind. This is a serious breach of common sense and commercial process but also the council's protocol."

Committee vice-chairman, Conservative councillor, Tony Adams added: "There has been - and I'll be blunt - a cover up."

Councillors agreed to reconvene the panel to further investigate the events leading up to the lease disposal and for recommendations for future decisions to come back to the committee for confirmation.

READ MORE: Revealed: How council gave away £500,000 eco-centre for free

Mr Clancy has been approached for comment.

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