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Labour condemns Lib Dem handling of Potters Fields saga

The leader of Southwark's Labour opposition has criticised the ruling Lib Dem/Tory administration for making "mistakes" in its handling of the long-running planning saga at Potters Fields next to Tower Bridge.

Peter John, Nick Stanton and Potters Fields
Labour leader Cllr Peter John (left) says that Southwark residents have lost out as a result of the handling of the Potters Fields controversy by Lib Dem leader Nick Stanton (right)

Southwark Council's 10-strong executive was due to sign a cooperation agreement with Berkeley Homes on Monday afternoon but no official announcement has yet been made about the outcome of the 50-minute meeting held behind closed doors at Southwark Town Hall.

Last month the executive decided in principle to enter into an agreement with the property developer which owns part of the prime riverside site, but that decision was called in by the council's Overview and Scrutiny Committee which held an emergency meeting on Monday morning to probe the proposed deal.

"I am still of the view that earlier decisions and mistakes about Potters Fields made by Cllr [Nick] Stanton and his Lib Dem colleagues have caused a significant loss to the people of Southwark," says Labour Group leader Cllr Peter John.

"The Labour Group will continue to press for a full range of options for the site and will continue to seek answers as to why the Lib Dems have raised public expectations about the site being used as a major cultural centre."

The Southwark Liberal Democrat manifesto in 2006 included a pledge to lead the development of a major cultural centre on the land next to Tower Bridge, but now it seems likely that the future use of the site will be housing-led with perhaps a small cultural element,

The Overview and Scrutiny Committee is chaired by Labour councillor Fiona Colley who told the London SE1 website that her committee "spent four hours carefully going through the details of the proposals, questioning chief officers and executive members".

"We concluded that given the situation the council now finds itself in, a partnership with Berkeley Homes is the best way forward to secure a better development, a cultural facility on the site and ensure the Southwark gets value for money.

"The committee had some outstanding concerns about financial risk management and governance and will take a further report later in the year."

Potters Fields has been the subject of controversy for many years. In 2006 Berkeley Homes won permission on appeal for a development of eight cylindrical towers, but as the council owns a large proportion of the land it was able to prevent the whole scheme being implemented.

Last week the man behind The Hill proposal for a cultural attraction on the site made a last-minute plea for councillors not to sign any deal with Berkeley without fully assessing the alternatives.

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