Plans for major improvements to the Edgbaston cricket ground have hit another stumbling block after Birmingham City Council’s cabinet was ordered to reconsider a promise to bankroll the project.
The council’s main scrutiny committee used its legal powers to block a proposed £20 million cash handout to Warwickshire County Cricket Club.
Members accused council leaders of failing to consult over the project and of taking a premature decision to make the loan available before planning permission had been granted for the £32 million stadium expansion scheme.
Last week, the council planning committee refused to grant planning permission for new stands, improved hospitality and media facilities, a new pavilion, floodlighting, housing, offices and hotels at the Edgbaston ground.
Members said they were worried about additional traffic on already congested roads and the impact of noise on people living nearby.
The club has been asked to tone down its application before it returns to the planning committee.
Yesterday’s scrutiny committee, held in private, also considered a risk assessment of the ground improvement scheme by accountants Deloitte.
The document is believed to raise doubts about WCCC’s estimates of the additional revenue it can raise by improving the ground – something that the club says is essential if Test match cricket is to continue to be played in Birmingham.
The scrutiny decision means that council leaders must think again about the wisdom of granting a loan, although the cabinet has powers to overrule scrutiny by voting for a second time to make the money available.
Committee chairman Alistair Dow said there were three reasons for ordering the cabinet to reconsider.
These were a lack of consultation with Edgbaston councillors, the fact that the loan decision had created controversy locally and a “substantial lack of clarity” over the detail of what was being proposed.
Members were angry at the absence from the meeting of council leader Mike Whitby, who they believed would attend to answer questions.
His failure to turn up was described as an “absolute disgrace” by Harborne Tory councillor John Alden.
Coun Alden added: “Why on earth do we bother with scrutiny if people are just going to do what they want?”
A spokesman for the council leader explained that Coun Whitby had a previous engagement, meeting the Jamaican High Commissioner, and had never intended to attend the scrutiny meeting. Leisure, sport and culture cabinet member Ray Hassall was also with the High Commissioner and regeneration cabinet member Neville Summerfield was away on leave.
Deputy Labour group leader Ian Ward urged the cabinet to delay a decision on the loan until outstanding issues over planning permission had been resolved.
Coun Ward (Lab Shard End) added: “I cannot understand why the cabinet wanted to rush through a decision on the loan even before the project has been given planning permission.”
WCCC chief executive Colin Povey said: “The ground improvements are absolutely crucial for the well being of the city given the economic position we are in. What we are proposing will generate an additional £52 million a year for the local economy.”