Councillor accused of 'squirming' over environmental centre finances

The Green Britain Centre, Swaffham, is to close Picture: Ian Burt

The Green Britain Centre, Swaffham, is to close Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: IAN BURT

A Green party councillor has accused a council counterpart of 'wriggling and squirming' out of answering questions on how much an authority sold an environmental centre building for.

Breckland councillors in spat on Zoom

At a Breckland full council meeting held on Thursday, January 21, Green party councillor Timothy Birt and the executive member for contracts and assets, Paul Hewett got into a heated exchange over the finances surrounding the sale of Swaffham's Green Britain Centre (GBC). - Credit: Zoom

At a virtual Breckland full council meeting held on Thursday, January 21, Green party councillor Timothy Birt and the executive member for contracts and assets, Paul Hewett, became involved in a heated exchange over the finances surrounding the sale of Swaffham's Green Britain Centre (GBC).

Ahead of the meeting, Mr Birt asked the Conservative councillor if the funds from the sale of the GBC will be reinvested back into Swaffham.

Tim Birt

Green Party councillor Tim Birt - Credit: Matthew Usher

He claimed Mr Hewett had "wriggled and squirmed" when answering his initial question, to which Conservative chairman of the council, Lynda Turner, asked Mr Birt to ask a supplementary question.

He then accused Mr Hewett of trying to "unilaterally declare" that funds from the sale of the centre cannot be used in Swaffham.

He added: "As usual, the financial affairs of this matter are murky or not being disclosed and I think anyone can draw their own conclusions from that."

Breckland councillor Paul Hewett.
Photo: Breckland Council

Breckland councillor Paul Hewett. Photo: Breckland Council - Credit: Archant Ltd.

Breckland Council agreed to sell the GBC to an unnamed business in the green industry at the start of this year, which the council said would bring up to 65 jobs to the area.

The building, which closed suddenly in January 2019, was subject to discussions between Swaffham Town Council (STC) and the district council, with an asset swap being proposed.

Mr Birt asked if Mr Hewett would "disclose the exact value of an investment and how many millions of pounds have been lost" in the sale of the GBC.

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Mr Hewett said Breckland had tried to work with Swaffham Town Council to find a use for the building, which he said had been empty for two years, which is 'more suited to the town and its aspirations'.

He said: "But a vision now has been dashed, albeit for a positive reason. As a result of the sale, we can offer employment and growth to the town but the town in turn now needs to seek an alternative location for its vision."

The Conservative councillor then went on to tell Mr Birt that "not every piece of news revolved around him" and that he should not "knock down communities for the sake of a few column inches".

Mr Hewett told Mr Birt to send any "real questions" to him in writing for him to respond to.

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