A council has been charged with ‘acting like communist China’ for suspending a 34-year-old loyal librarian.
Maureen O’Bern, 58, says she has been punished by Wigan City Council, Greater Manchester, after raising concerns over the £130 million redevelopment of The Galleries shopping center.
In social media posts, Ms O’Bern, who worked at the Leigh Library, southeast of Wigan, criticized the involvement of Beijing Construction Engineering Group International (BCEGI), a Chinese state-owned company.
The municipality hopes to build a new 150-room hotel, 464 residences and a multimedia center that will include a cinema, 10-lane bowling alley and indoor miniature golf as part of the Galleries 25 project, a joint venture collaboration between developers Cityheart and BCEGI.
Maureen O’Bern, 58, (pictured) says she was punished by Wigan council after raising concerns about the redevelopment of The Galleries shopping center
However, Ms O’Bern said she has serious concerns about BCEGI in the UK because of China’s human rights record, particularly the crackdown on protests in Hong Kong and the persecution of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang province.
She said: ‘I am concerned about Chinese investment in our infrastructure. I don’t think they should buy up our cities.
‘Investments give you influence and power. I do not want that from a totalitarian state that does not respect human rights.
‘The municipality says that it is good for the city and that it generates money. I love my hometown and I want the best for Wigan.
Artist’s impression of the redevelopment of Wigan city centre. Ms O’Bern says she is deeply concerned about Britain’s BCEGI over human rights situation in China
Wigan Municipality has signed a deal with Cityheart – as main contractor – and BCEGI – as subcontractor – to deliver the project in December
‘I want redevelopment, but I want it to be done ethically. The council says it stands in solidarity with oppressed people, but then makes a deal with a regime that has a poor human rights record.
“The issue of Chinese investment needs to be addressed. I think we’re very short-sighted.’
A public consultation period on the redevelopment of The Galleries ended earlier this week ahead of a final planning application, which is expected to be submitted this month.
The proposals also include a new market hall with traditional stalls, modern retail units, co-working spaces, small offices and a contemporary food hall.
Wigan Municipality has signed a deal with Cityheart – as main contractor – and BCEGI – as subcontractor – to deliver the project in December.
Ms O’Bern, who stood in Leigh as a pro-Brexit candidate in the 2019 general election, claims she tried to voice her concerns about the redevelopment internally but was ignored.
Ms O’Bern, who stood in Leigh as a pro-Brexit candidate in the 2019 general election, claims she tried to voice her concerns about the redevelopment internally but was ignored (pictured)
As a result, she says she decided to take to social media.
When a complaint was made to the council about the posts, Ms O’Bern said she was told she was under investigation.
She was later told she was being suspended for “discrediting the reputation of the municipality” and was escorted from the library while she was at work.
“I had an impeccable track record for this,” she explained.
“I have won awards and am not a troublemaker.
‘I’m upset. I put my life in that library.
“They say I won’t be punished, but I was escorted out of a building where I worked for 34 years.”
Ms O’Bern said she was aware her contract would not allow her to criticize the council online, but felt compelled to voice her concerns.
“I’m not just knocking on the board,” she said.
“I feel so strongly about this matter, I won’t back down.
“If you see something you think isn’t right, you should be able to express your job.
‘I’m not just an employee, I’ve paid council tax all my life in Wigan and should have a say.
“They suppress freedom of speech.”
Since her suspension, Ms O’Bern says she has received “a lot of support” and plans to stage a public protest against the development.
James Grundy, the MP for Leigh, has offered his support to Ms O’Bern by writing a letter to Wigan’s board of directors, accusing the authority of “acting like Communist China”.
He wrote: ‘My view is that Maureen’s view is not controversial and would be accepted by many, if not the majority, of my constituents.
“It’s one thing for the council to do business with communist China, which the council’s Labor administration has a right to do, however much I might, given the Labor majority on the council.
“It’s very different for the council to act like communist China and punish those who hold dissenting views, especially when those views can be accepted by the vast majority of the general public.”
A spokesman for the Wigan Council said: ‘It would not be appropriate for the council to disclose or discuss labor issues, but we can report that this is a long-standing issue that is being investigated in accordance with our internal policies and procedures. ‘