Row over MP Alex Chalk's 'omission' of Cheltenham council involvement in £1bn Golden Valley project

A row has broken out between Cheltenham’s Liberal Democrat council leader and the town’s Conservative MP Alex Chalk over election leaflets referencing the £1bn Golden Valley development.

Council leader Rowena Hay (LD, Oakley) said she felt compelled to write to Alex Chalk over his lack of referring to Cheltenham Borough Council’s involvement in the project in his election publicity materials.

She says Borough Council officers have worked tirelessly and deserve recognition for the successes to date on delivering her Liberal Democrat administration’s ambitious development near GCHQ which is expected to create 12,000 new jobs and 3,700 houses.

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But her letter, which was circulated using council headed paper during the pre-election period, has been reported to the council’s monitoring officer as a potential breach of the Local Government Act and an investigation is now underway.

Cllr Hay says in the letter that it was the Borough Council which purchased the land, allocated it for development and found a private sector partner to deliver the Golden Valley Development. “The land purchase alone represented this council’s biggest ever investment," she said.

"The subsequent decision to invest in excess of £90 million to secure the future of the site takes the local level of investment even further. This is a development that has been led by the council from the start.

"We have been grateful for your support. However, it has become clear that in your election communications with local people you are attempting to take all credit for the project.

Cheltenham Borough Council leader Rowena Hay
Cheltenham Borough Council leader Rowena Hay (LD, Oakley) said “the timing is right for both councils to bring in a new owner to take [the airport] forward”. -Credit:Cheltenham Borough Council

“Indeed, in almost all of your communications, you fail to mention the Borough Council’s involvement at all.”

She goes on to say that in Mr Chalk’s latest leaflet states he is “working to ensure his vision for a Cheltenham Cyber Park is delivered with both government and private sector investment.” “This sort of phrase is not unusual in your leaflets, but it is a misrepresentation of the facts”, Cllr Hay continues.

“As you know, the vision document for the Golden Valley was created by the Borough Council. The formal planning work was started by and continues to be undertaken by, the Borough Council, in conjunction with private sector partners.

“It is true to suggest that you have supported the project and that the government has provided £20 million to part-fund the National Cyber Innovation Centre. But it is absolutely not true to say that this development is the ‘vision’ of any one person, which is regrettably what you have suggested repeatedly.

“Many people will wonder whether the omission of the words 'Cheltenham Borough Council' from any of your Golden Valley communications is motivated by crude and cheap party politics. I am, however, willing to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you would not deliberately take credit for the work of others. That would be unbecoming of a Member of Parliament, let alone a senior cabinet minister.

“Thus far, this authority and its administration has taken a generous and respectful view of your omissions. That has partly been because we are reliant on what little government support that has been given - not least because this authority is the 19th worst funded council in the country.

“I am writing to inform you that our patience is now at an end. Cheltenham residents deserve better. I trust that your communications relating to the Golden Valley development in future will be representative of the full facts.”

A source close to Mr Chalk said the letter “just confirms that the Lib Dems are more concerned with their own PR than with actually delivering for the people of Cheltenham”. “When Alex first set out his cyber vision in 2014, the Lib Dems mocked it and said a cyber centre wouldn’t be coming to Cheltenham," the source said.

“Alex has proved them wrong by securing nearly £50m in government funding for the project. Alex believes in actions, not words.”

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