Lib Dem Teignbridge Council has been accused of ‘control freakery’ after changing the way council officers deal with more than £9 million in government cash earmarked for Newton Abbot’s town centre redevelopment.
Councillors have voted to stop delegating decisions on projects for the centre cinema and market hall to officers, and bring them back under the control of the executive committee.
But opposition councillors claim it could lead to more delays.
The government has earmarked £9.2 million from its Future High Street Fund to projects including Queen Street and cycle route improvements, as well as the controversial cinema and market hall elements.
Queen Street and the cycle route projects are underway, but the others have missed important milestones and there is a deadline to spend the money by March next year.
A motion by council leader Martin Wrigley (Lib Dem, Dawlish NE) said: “Progress on the market hall regeneration and the cinema has been disappointingly slow for a variety of reasons. It is likely that changes to these projects may be required due to cost inflation and economic changes since 2019 and the delays since November 2022.
“The cinema has yet to obtain planning permission after nearly four years of the project. The council is concerned that the projects are progressing without detailed oversight.
'It is not the intention to stop the work, but to deliver the projects in a timely manner.'
Cllr Wrigley said covid and the economic crisis means the situation is ‘almost unrecoverable’, but the new arrangement would allow the council to be more flexible.
'We have a very different world out there now,' he said. 'We have not delivered where we imagined that we would, and time is short going forward.'
But Conservative group leader Phil Bullivant (Bradley) said he was ‘embarrassed’ by the motion which ‘drove a coach and horses’ through council procedures.
;The people of Newton Abbot deserve better,; he said. We should be supporting our officers rather than seeking to hand the keys of the institution to the inmates.'
Cllr Andrew MacGregor (South Devon Alliance Independent, Bishopsteignton) said making officers report back to the council more often, as would happen if Cllr Wrigley’s motion succeeded, would only cause more delays.
And, he added: 'It is not clear how any of this is going to work. What we are talking about is control freakery on the part of the executive.'
But Cllr Wrigley hit back: 'There have been no delays as a result of indecision. The executive has not messed this up.
'We need to do something differently to achieve the delivery of a project that has not been delivered over the past four years.
'Circumstances have changed substantially, and we need to be able to change the approach we are taking.'