Labour councillors say their Conservative rivals at Lichfield District Council have not learned their lesson over Friarsgate after accusing them of holding secret meetings about the future of the land.
The long-awaited city centre redevelopment scheme bit the dust earlier this year after more than a decade of planning when it emerged that nowhere near enough funding could be secured.
A working group was set up in the wake of the fall-out, but Following the fiasco of the collapse of the Friarsgate project, the leadership at Lichfield District Council has now been accused of holding discussions behind closed doors.
Cllr Sue Woodward, leader of the Labour opposition group, said emails and replies from Tory councillors showed that talks were taking place away from the eyes of other parties.
“There’s reference in the emails that were sent to all members to problems, proposals and plans which have clearly been discussed with Conservative members but not with the working group or members in general,” she said.
“I have to presume that these emails were sent inadvertently to the whole council when they were meant for Conservative members only, but they certainly shed light again on the undemocratic and secretive way the administration operates.
“We were all led to believe that this would be an open and inclusive process but it looks like this was just a charade.
“Even at the full council meeting, we were repeatedly told the work on the Birmingham Road Site (BRS) was transparent and genuinely cross-party. If they’re not willing to be open and honest with all fellow councillors, what chance will the public have?”
The council has admitted that taxpayers still face a bill of more than £7million for Friarsgate, despite not even a brick being laid.
Much of the discussion around the project as it floundered was held away from the gaze of public and media scrutiny.
Cllr Colin Ball, the sole Labour representative of the BRS working group, said: “I was the first to call for a genuinely non-partisan working group and, although it took a while to get off the ground, I thought the plans for the site would genuinely be shared with me as a member.
“I feel like I’ve been led up the garden path – or pile of rubble as a couple of Conservative members describe this site in their replies to this circular email.”
Cllr Woodward added: “After spending £1.9million on the former police station, one councillor described the building as ‘dilapidated’, ‘in a dangerous state of disrepair’ and possibly rat-infested.
“It looks like we’ve all been conned, yet again.”