“CIPFA warns councils over serious commercial activity concerns”

“CIPFA is to work on fresh guidance over concerns councils in England are putting public funds at “unnecessary or unquantified risk” when borrowing to invest in commercial property.

In a statement released today, the insitute suggested local authorities were investing in commercial properties disproportionately to their resources.

This would be against the requirements of the CIPFA’s Prudential Code and Treasury Management code, the joint statement from CIPFA chief executive Rob Whiteman and chair of CIPFA’s treasury and capital management panel Richard Paver, said.

Whiteman and Paver said that “in some cases these investments have been financed by borrowing” and CIPFA shared concerns there had been an “acceleration of the practice of borrowing to invest in commercial property”.

They warned councils the “prime policy objective of a local authority’s treasury management investment activities is the security of funds, and that a local authority should avoid exposing public funds to unnecessary or unquantified risks”.

CIPFA’s code and the government’s Statutory Guidance on Local Government Investments were “very clear that local authorities must not borrow more than or in advance of their needs purely in order to profit from the investment of the extra sums borrowed”.

The institute will “issue more guidance and will make it clear that these investment approaches are not consistent with the requirements of fiscal sustainability, prudence and affordability,” the statement said.

Government figures released last week showed an increase in local authorities’ commercial activities.

English councils’ acquisition of land and buildings rose by £1.2bn (43.1%) to £4bn in 2017-18 from £2.8bn in 2016-17, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government data revealed.

Total borrowing by councils in England had risen from £4.4bn in 2013-14 to £10bn in 2017-18.

The guidance is expected to be published before the end of the year.

Until it is released, CIPFA advised local authorities to refer to the government guidance, which cautions local authorities against:

– Becoming dependent on commercial income;

– Taking out too much debt relative to net service expenditure; and

– Taking on debt to finance commercial investments.

The MHCLG figures out last week showed the largest investors in commercial property were Spelthorne Borough Council at £270m and Warrington Borough Council with £220m. Eastleigh Borough Council also spent £194m.

In 2016, Spelthorne took out 50 separate Public Works Loan Board loans to fund the purchase of a £360m business park in Sunbury-on-Thames.

PF understands that MHCLG and the Treasury have expressed concern about the scale of commercial property investment.

MHCLG has been contacted for comment.”

https://www.publicfinance.co.uk/news/2018/10/cipfa-warns-councils-over-serious-commercial-activity-concerns

“Politicians may finally be catching on: towns now hold the key to Britain’s future”

“… Everywhere we go, people talk about the fate of their town centres with amazing passion, and frustration. Obviously, the Altrincham model of regeneration will not suit everywhere, to say the least. Labour now has a five-point plan for high streets that takes in an end to ATM charges, free wifi, a new register of empty properties, free bus travel for under-25s and reform of business rates. It sounds promising, though perhaps evades something that is glaringly obvious: conventional chain-store retailing is dying fast and high streets need to find new uses. Until this sinks in, the mood of resentment and political disconnection that characterises many of our towns will fester on.

With good reason, the political debate about austerity tends to focus on cuts to such crucial services as adult and children’s social care, education, libraries and public transport. But there is also an overlooked ambient austerity manifested in streets festooned with rubbish and the decline and decay of public space – and it has a huge effect on how people feel about where they live and what politics has to offer them.

… Obviously, young people who are not happy in towns tend to leave. It is the older generations who stick around, and who feel the changes to town life more deeply. Despite the fashionable idea that Britain’s current malaise will be miraculously ended once they begin to die off, they are going to be around for some time to come.

Wherever we go, with good reason, most people we meet have no sense of which bit of government is responsible for this or that aspect of their lives – only that the forces making the decisions are remote, seemingly unaccountable and rarely interested in where they live. Many urban areas have been recently boosted by the creation of “city regions” governed by “metro mayors”; in Scotland and Wales, devolution has brought power closer to people’s lives. In most English towns, by contrast, systems of power and accountability are pretty much as they were 40 years ago.

… What this does to people’s connection with politics is clear. To quote a report by the recently founded thinktank the Centre for Towns, “on average, people living in cities are much less likely to believe that politicians don’t care about their area. Those living in towns are, in contrast, more likely to think politicians don’t care about their area – and won’t in the future.”

There lies the biggest issue of all. The future of our towns will only partly be decided by the high-octane rituals of Westminster debate, and general elections. What really matters is whether they might finally run a much greater share of their own affairs – and, to coin a memorable slogan, take back control.”

https://www.theguardian.com/cities/commentisfree/2018/oct/18/politicians-may-finally-be-catching-on-towns-now-hold-the-key-to-britains-future

Sidford Business Park: a begged question

If the Sidford Business Park was turned down because of

“the potentially lethal combination of narrow roads and increased heavy goods vehicle usage” …

why was it hurriedly and grubbily added to the Local Plan at the last minute?

https://eastdevonwatch.org/2018/06/18/sidford-business-park-a-grubby-history/

“Planners have said NO to Sidford Business Park and turned down the controversial plans over a potentially lethal combination of narrow roads and increased heavy goods vehicle usage.

East Devon District Council planners rejected plans to build industrial, storage and non-residential institutions on agricultural land to the east of Two Bridges Road in Sidford.

They were refused on the grounds of harm to highway safety, relating to increased heavy goods vehicle usage of the area’s narrow roads and the decision was made by officers with the Chairman of Development Management Committee, Cllr Mike Howe, in accordance with the Council’s Constitution. …”

https://www.devonlive.com/news/devon-news/planners-refuse-controversial-sidford-business-2120014

Report: Accountability in Modern Government: recommendations for change

The report referred to in the post below deserves attentive reading:

https://www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk/sites/default/files/publications/Accountability_modern_government_WEB.pdf

Campaigners will press on with “Say No to Sidford Business Park” activity

Say NO To Sidford Business Park Campaign

Press Release – 16 October 2018

The Campaign is relieved for local residents that the District Council has, for the second time in as many years, refused a planning application to build a Business Park on agricultural AONB land at Sidford.

We are pleased that the views of local residents have been listened to once again. Over 250 residents submitted letters of objection, and 1,400 residents signed this Campaign’s petition objecting to the proposed Business Park.

The proposed Business Park is the wrong thing in the wrong place, and we urge the applicants to end the years of uncertainty and concern that has hung over local residents, particularly those in the immediate vicinity to the site, by publicly stating that they will not pursue this matter to appeal.

Whilst we are pleased that the District Council has refused to give planning permission for a Business Park we are disappointed that the Council has only done so on highways concerns. We believe that the refusal could, and should have been more wide ranging.

Until the applicants end their attempts to build a Business Park on this site the Campaign will continue to do all it can to reflect the clear views of local residents.

EDDC objects to Sidford Business Park ONLY on Highways grounds

Owl says: Well, in Christine Keeler’s famous words [corrected by slap on talons to Mandy Rice Davies!] “Well, they would do, wouldn’t they”!

“East Devon District Council Website – 16 October 2018
News
Sidford employment site outline planning application refused on highway safety grounds

When this content has been created
16 October 2018

Local planning authority’s concerns over a potentially lethal combination of narrow roads and increased heavy goods vehicle usage has resulted in refusal of Sidford business park planning application

East Devon District Council has today (16 October 2018), refused an application for outline planning permission for the Sidford employment site ( – Land East of Two Bridges, Sidford – on the grounds of harm to highway safety, relating to increased heavy goods vehicle (HGVs) usage of the area’s narrow roads. The decision was made by officers with the Chairman of Development Management Committee in accordance with the Council’s Constitution. The meeting was attended by ward members, Cllr David Barrett and Cllr Stuart Hughes.

Details of the application can be viewed on the online applications page of the East Devon website – insert application reference 18/1094/MOUT.

The site is allocated in the adopted East Devon Local Plan and is acceptable in principle, but the allocation is primarily for light industrial uses. The applicants included a significant amount of warehouse space in their application, which would be reliant on HGVs to deliver goods to the site and then distribute them from there. Devon County Council, as Highway Authority, objected to the application based on the number of HGVs likely to be generated by the proposal, which significantly exceeds the figure envisaged when the site was allocated. East Devon District Council has agreed that the numbers of HGVs combined with the narrow roads, both in the vicinity of the site and through Sidbury, would lead to conflict between vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians to the detriment of highway safety, and it was on this basis that the application was turned down.

The planning application has generated comments from 369 people and organisations, of which 255 were objecting to the proposal. A petition of 1,398 residents of the Sidford area and over 200 signatures from the wider area was also received. There were a wide range of objections raised to the application, including concerns regarding flood risk, visual impact, impact upon listed buildings, impact on the area of outstanding natural beauty, light and noise pollution and questions over the need for the business park, which the council considered in detail – many of them having also been considered through the Local Plan examination.

However, the council concluded that the application is acceptable in terms of these matters, with only highways safety amounting to a reason for refusal. In order to progress the development, the applicant now has the choice of appealing against the council’s decision or submitting a revised application to address the concerns raised. Any appeal or further application will be publicised in the usual way and there will be a further opportunity for comments to be made and considered by the council or a Planning Inspector in the case of a an appeal.

Councillor Mike Howe, Chairman of East Devon’s Development Management Committee, said:

I recognise that there is a lot of local opposition to the provision of a business park on this site, but its inclusion in the Local Plan follows an examination by an independent Planning Inspector and the suitability of the site was confirmed by him. Sidmouth needs space to support local businesses and provide jobs and this site is the best location to do that. There were many varied objections to this application but it is only the high level of HGVs that would be drawn to the site, which justifies its refusal.”

Sidford Business Park – Sidmouth Herald ignores hard work of independent councillors

“East Devon District Council (EDDC) announced the news today (Tuesday) that the site would be a ‘detriment to highway safety’ due to the increase of HGV traffic it would bring to inadequate road.

Therefore the controversial plans will not go before its development management committee, as previously expected.

Last week, more than 100 people attended a campaign meeting objecting to the proposed plans for 8,445sqm of employment floor space at the Two Bridges site. …”

Disgracefully, the newspaper then allows two councillors who played very little part in public protest (and one of whom allowed the hasty decision to include it in the Local Plan) and no mention or comment from Independent Councillors (particularly East Devon Alliance councillor Marianne Rixon) who have been constantly doing all the hard work and (at least in this article) none of the recognition.

http://www.sidmouthherald.co.uk/news/district-council-refuse-sidford-business-park-proposal-1-5738301