TORY housing secretary Robert Jenrick says the council leader is ‘wrong’ after he labelled any stories stating austerity is over as fake news.

Mr Jenrick made his way to the Peace Centre, which is home to the Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Peace Foundation, earlier today, Tuesday.

He was welcomed by founders Colin and Wendy Parry, chief executive Nick Taylor and Conservative Warrington South parliamentary candidate Andy Carter.

The pre-general election visit comes less than 24 hours after Warrington Borough Council’s cabinet met at the Town Hall, where members slammed the Government’s austerity measures.

Warrington Guardian:

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick next to Colin Parry at the Peace Centre

The Labour-run authority says it has made more than £137 million worth of savings and cuts since 2010 because of reduced funding from the Government.

The cabinet discussed its investment strategy, including Birchwood Park which it bought for £211 million in 2017.

The council insists commercial properties are being bought in an attempt to offset the impact of cuts in Government funding by boosting income through rent.

It says Birchwood Park is forecast to deliver £5 million of net income this year.

Leader Cllr Russ Bowden said that will save around 150 jobs at the council.

Warrington Guardian:

Council leader Cllr Russ Bowden

The authority’s level of debt has been forecast to top £1.5 billion in 2021.

But Cllr Bowden insists the council is making ‘sound’ investments and has many ‘tangible assets’ to show for the borrowing.

He said: “Unlike Tory austerity, which has added £1.2 trillion to national debt and delivered nothing other than misery, I actually look at the level of borrowing from this council and I am very heartened by the performance and the work that has been done to underpin that.

“Any stories that austerity is over are quite clearly fake news.”

Cllr Hans Mundry, cabinet member for transportation, highways and public realm, claims the Government seems to have an ‘anti-local authority stance’ over funding, while Cllr Hitesh Patel, portfolio holder for transformation, insists the borrowing and investment strategy is not ‘speculative’.

“We’re trying to do a fantastic job locally but the Government is letting us down,” said Cllr Patel.

In relation to the comments from Cllr Mundry, as well as Cllr Bowden over austerity not being over, Mr Jenrick  said: “That is completely wrong.

“We did have to make difficult decisions in 2010 because Labour crashed the economy and left public finances in the worst state that they’ve been in since the Second World War.”

He also emphasised the Government is now able to invest more into public services and local government.

Shortly after, Mr Carter highlighted the council’s level of borrowing.

Warrington Guardian:

Tory Warrington South candidate Andy Carter

“I think borrowing needs to be responsible and we need to be very careful over which levels local authorities are borrowing at,” said Mr Carter.

Mr Jenrick said he wants to see councils behave responsibly when spending public money and that the Government is ‘clamping down’ on those that are failing to do so.

And he highlighted the prospect of commercial investments being ‘quite likely to turn sour’ in the years ahead.

He said: “There’s a small number of councils across the country who have behaved recklessly.

“It (Warrington) is a council that’s become indebted.

“These councils have been borrowing public money to make speculative investments or to purchase real estate and office parks, which may well turn out to be bad investments in the future – some already have and that’s wrong.”

More than 7,000 homes have been earmarked for green belt land in the council’s draft local plan.

During a Town Hall meeting earlier this year, Cllr Bowden said the council can’t meet the minimum housing objective set by the Government so is proposing development in the green belt as a ‘last resort’.

Warrington Guardian:

Town Hall

But that has been disputed by Mr Jenrick.

He said: “We have been very clear that the green belt is important and it should be protected, that is set out once again in our manifesto.

“We’ve said we want to see brownfield sites chosen first for development and we’ve created a £10 billion fund to unlock brownfield sites – and I want to see that funding flow into a community like Warrington so that those sites can become viable and homes can be built there as a matter of priority.

“There shouldn’t be a reason why Warrington feels that they are being forced to build on the green belt, we couldn’t have been clearer that we want to protect and enhance the green belt in the years ahead.”

Mr Carter vowed to work with Government ministers, if elected, to try and secure funding to regenerate brownfield sites, such as Fiddlers Ferry, as well as land in the town centre.

“We also need to make sure that the brownfield register is absolutely up to date, so that our priority is developing those areas first, not green belt space in Warrington South,” he said.

Furthermore, Mr Jenrick urged voters to back Mr Carter on Thursday before labelling Prime Minister Boris Johnson as ‘one of life’s great optimists’ who has a ‘real can-do attitude’.

He added: “The polls are looking very tight, this is going to be a very tight election and a small number of constituencies will determine who walks into Downing Street on Friday – and this (Warrington South) is one of them.”