The under-fire councillor allegedly responsible for the “catastrophic” William Penn Leisure Centre refurbishment has survived a motion demanding his resignation.

At a meeting of Three Rivers District Council, held this evening, Councillor Chris Whately-Smith survived a motion from the main Conservative opposition group calling for him to accept overall responsibility for the project’s widely reported failings and quit his prestigious cabinet role.

The motion was defeated by a majority vote, with all members of the ruling Liberal Democrat party voting against and all Conservatives voting in favour.

Of Labour’s three representatives, two voted for the motion and one against.

Kicking off a heated but mainly friendly debate, Conservative group leader Councillor David Sansom, said: “Somebody needs to get a grip on this project and Councillor Whately-Smith is clearly not the person to do this.”

He added that, as a matter of principle, Councillor Whately-Smith, cabinet member for leisure, should hand back some of the expenses he had earned in the role.

Former council chairman Amrit Mediratta, a friend to Councillor Whately-Smith, also gave his support for the motion. He said: “I am a chartered architect. I had my own practice for the best part of 27 years.

“I’ve never in all that time seen any project so mismanaged as the refurbishment of William Penn. Chris is a good friend of mine but I think he needs to kick hard a few backsides or have his backside kicked.”

Councillor Whately-Smith, however, received strong support from party colleagues. Council leader Ann Shaw again brushed off the motion as “petty, personal party politics”.

Councillor Les Mead asked why the principle of individual accountability had not been followed at Hertfordshire County Council, where various well-publicised financial and administrative errors have been made in recent months, including the potential loss of £28 million in Icelandic banks, the overpayment of staff and possibly illegal pension fund activities – already reported by the Watford Observer.

Labour group leader Councillor Francis Durham, who abstained during the vote, said it was too early to rush to judgement. He said: “I have great difficulty in blaming one individual for this. We have more investigation to do and must look wider.”

The opening of two new swimming pools at the site, in Shepherds Lane, is running nearly two years late and over budget. The council is now locked in a lengthy and potentially costly legal dispute with former contractor Gee – which it sacked in February.

The council will hold a full scrutiny inquiry when the project is finally finished.