Councils investing in commercial property and regeneration feel the chill

Owl wonders how EDDC is getting on with Grenadier in Exmouth …..

“Uncertainty over the impact of Brexit on the UK property market has hit two major council investment projects.

Essex County Council this week formally removed £6m from the budget for its £50m property investment fund after pausing further purchases due to worries over Brexit.

Meanwhile, Brighton & Hove City Council has been forced to delay the signing of a development agreement on a regeneration scheme in which it is planning to invest £8m.

The problems emerged in a week that communities secretary James Brokenshire announced allocations for councils under a new £56m fund to help them prepare for Brexit.

In a report to councillors, Margaret Lee, executive director for corporate and customer services, recommended the £6m reduction in Essex’s property investment fund, saying: “Due to the uncertainties caused by Brexit and the potential impact on the property market, the scheme has been paused with no further purchases planned.”

The pause in investment was originally agreed by Essex councillors in November, after advice from its adviser Hymans Robertson not to expand its commercial property programme “due to the current market conditions including the unknown impact of Brexit”.

However, the council has now decided to remove £6m from the investment programme budget as part of a package of measures that will help the authority reach a forecast underspend of £29.6m in its 2018/19 capital spending programme.

Before the programme was halted, £44m of the fund had been spent on property, which the council says is already yielding £1m for council services.

Essex is set to review whether to restart commercial property investment through the fund during the summer.

Meanwhile, in Brighton, councillors have been forced to delay a deadline they set for housebuilder Crest Nicholson to sign the development agreement on the King Alfred leisure centre and housing regeneration scheme.

Originally, councillors had proposed to walk away from discussions with the developer unless it signed the deal by 31 January.

However, it extended the deadline until 30 March – the day after the UK’s date for leaving the European Union (EU), following a last minute plea from Crest.

In a letter to the council, it cited “challenging economic uncertainties surrounding Brexit and the impact this could yet have on the construction industry workforce and wider confidence and stability of the property market”.

It added that “as soon as we have greater certainty over the nature and form of the Brexit arrangement which we all hope and expect will be achieved shortly, and assuming this does give reasonable certainty over the future trading relations with Europe, then we will enter into the development agreement and commit the team and resources required to promote the scheme, develop the design and seek planning in accordance with the conditions and programme”.

In 2016, the council committed £8m to the project, which comprises a sports centre, swimming pool, underground parking and 565 homes in blocks of up to 18 storeys high.”

http://www.room151.co.uk/funding/brexit-fears-hit-council-property-investments-as-contingency-funds-confirmed/

Michael Caines to open new restaurant on Exmouth seafront

https://www.devonlive.com/news/devon-news/michael-caines-restaurant-confirmed-exmouth-2266592

Let’s hope prices won’t be too high for locals. Bed and breakfast at his nearby Lympstone Manor starts at a cool £250 per person per night – or a reasonable offer of £330 per room on Hotels.com.

Lunch costs £39 for 2 courses, £49 for three courses with a nice dinner for £125 per person – lobster, grouse, passion fruit souffle as an example.

Perhaps the seafront restaurant will use the leftovers!

“Save Exmouth Seafront campaigners challenge ‘arrogant’ Queen’s Drive plans”

Is Grenadier’s funding perhaps contingent on EDDC moving the road? A big gamble for EDDC …

“Save Exmouth Seafront campaigners have expressed concerns after East Devon District Council pushed through plans to realign the Queen’s Drive road and car park.

Seafront campaigners have hit out at ‘arrogant’ plans to fast track the redirection of Exmouth’s Queens Drive to make way for a new watersports centre.

Save Exmouth Seafront (SES) said it ‘views with grave concern’ the decision by East Devon District Council (EDDC) to proceed with diverting Queen’s Drive behind the proposed Watersports centre, because the decision was ‘taken at very short notice’.

The campaign group’s concerns are in response East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) cabinet approval for work to begin on phase one of the regeneration, despite no ‘legal commitment’ from Grenadier Estates for ‘phase two’.

Nick Hookway, SES chairman, said: “This decision by the EDDC cabinet, taken at very short notice and voted through before residents had a chance to speak, shows yet again the arrogance of this council and the contempt with which residents’ views and concerns are considered.

“This decision raises a whole range of questions.”

He said the campaign group wants to know why the new road is being moved behind the before the developer has fully signed up to the project, and questions why EDDC was funding it.

The group asked what would happen if Grenadier Estates did not go ahead with the watersports centre and whether there was a contingency plan, fearing residents face a future with a derelict seafront site.

EDDC said it was ‘making sure’ it was on track to deliver what residents want.

An EDDC spokeswoman said: “The council is not prepared to allow further delays on the delivery of a new road and car park, which will pave the way for the much awaited water sports centre and a vision for the wider Queen’s Drive site.”

She added: “We also appreciate that there are a number of long term detractors who have their concerns about how the new seafront is taking shape, so we want to provide reassurance that we are constantly keeping under review the programme of development and maintaining progress while keeping Exmouth people informed on what we are doing.”

She said the council was ‘fully committed’ to the ongoing consultation with the public about changes to the seafront.”

http://www.exmouthjournal.co.uk/news/save-exmouth-seafront-group-challenges-redirection-of-queen-s-drive-1-5788976

INDEPENDENT COUNCILLORS SLAM TORY SUPPORT FOR HIGH RISK EXMOUTH STRATEGY

Press release:

“A series of East Devon District Council Independent councillors strongly criticised Tory proposals to commence work on a replacement car park, as part of the Queens Drive Regeneration Project, at the EDDC Cabinet meeting on 31 October.

Leading the criticism was Exmouth Councillor Megan Armstrong (Exmouth Halsdon – Independent) who referred to the planned new road as “a road to nowhere”.

Other Independent Councillors expressing concern about the Tory course of action were Independents Roger Giles, Ben Ingham, and Rob Longhurst and EDA Members Cathy Gardner and Geoff Jung.

The first criticism related to timing. Although it was a major and contentious issue, the report for the meeting was issued just 24 hours before the meeting.

Megan Armstrong urged that the report be deferred to allow councillors time to properly consider the proposals, and the implications. She said that sending out the report so late was “manipulative management.”

Cathy Gardner said it was “extremely regrettable that such short notice was given for such an important issue”.

It had originally been agreed that the go ahead for construction of the car park would only be given when agreement had been reached between EDDC and Grenadier about construction of the Watersports Centre by Grenadier.

However the EDDC Cabinet was informed on 31 October that no such agreement had been reached. Merely that verbal assurances had been made.

Roger Giles warned the Cabinet that going ahead without the required agreement carried substantial risks. He cited paragraph 2.7 of the report which said : `Cabinet should be aware that this represents a risk that the council is incurring costs without Grenadier being legally committed to delivering the Watersports Centre thereafter.`

Roger Giles asked whether independent audit advice had been sought about the inherent risk. He was told it had not.

Ben Ingham was strongly critical of undertaking such a high risk strategy.

Rob Longhurst criticised the lack of a business plan, and the absence of costings, and said there was a lack of justification for the departure from the previous strategy.

Geoff Jung questioned the income assumptions; he asked how a smaller car park than the original would generate increased income. He also expressed concern about EDDC`s responsibilities anf financial burden, should Grenadier not develop the site.

Megan Armstrong pointed out that the Cabinet agenda papers (item 10 pages 31 to 35) contained the minutes of the meeting of the Exmouth Regeneration Board on 20 September. The minutes contained no reference to the proposed early construction of the car park!

Megan Armstrong asked a series of critical questions, including about the three outstanding `condition precedents`, and seeking explanation of the beach access agreement.

She complained that questions asked by herself, and by other independent councillors, had not received proper answers. Council Leader Ian Thomas told her he would ensure that she received answers after the meeting; Megan Armstrong was very critical of councillors being asked to make a decision – and then to receive the pertinent information AFTER the decision was made: she said “That is a very poor form of decision making.”

In spite of the failure to achieve the necessary agreements the (Conservative) Cabinet agreed to proceed with early construction of the car park after only 3 Cabinet Members spoke very briefly.

After the meeting Megan Armstrong was highly critical of the Cabinet decision.

“Tonight Tory councillors made an important decision relating to Exmouth, and they denied the people of Exmouth the opportunity to comment on it. The Tory councillors agreed a very high risk strategy without justification for it, and without proper safeguard for public funds for which they are responsible. It is irresponsible political management; Exmouth deserves better.”

“Temporary Exmouth seafront attraction set for extended stay”

“… In the planning application’s support statement, Alison Hayward, the district council’s senior manager of regeneration and economic development, said: “The council now has the ability to undertake the development as approved but this will not happen immediately.

“With that in mind, the council wishes to continue operating the temporary attractions from the site for another year until March 2020, after the current temporary permission expires in March 2019.” …”

http://www.exmouthjournal.co.uk/news/temporary-attractions-exmouth-seafront-extension-application-1-5766604

“Judge quashes grant of planning permission for watersports hub”

“The Administrative Court has quashed Cheshire West & Chester Borough Council’s grant of planning permission for a watersports centre after finding that this changed from a facility for members to one for the public without proper notice to objectors.

HHJ Raeside said Clive Sykes, who lives next door to the site concerned, argued that the council failed to consult on a submission of last-minute information altering the nature of the application from members only use to that of the general public.

In Sykes v Cheshire West & Chester Borough Council [2018] EWHC 3655 (Admin) Mr Sykes argued there was no opportunity for the public to make representations on this late information and the failure to consult was contrary to rules of natural justice.

The judge said: “Any fair reading of a combination of one or more salient planning documents published…prior to the day of the planning hearing make it palpably clear that it was their intention…that the Watersports Hub was to be for use of a private club mainly the boathouse and that had existed for many years before, well-known for its members only [policy].”

He rejected the council’s claim that the change from this to an application for a facility for public use could be reasonably called “a clarification”.
“It is difficult to imagine how a change of use of facility from members only to those of the public can possibly be described as a ‘clarification’,” he said.

“In the ordinary use of the English language this is best described as a volte-face (of course allowing the introduction of French into the English language).”

The judge though dismissed two other grounds argued by Mr Sykes, that the council failed to heed environmental protection team advice that a full assessment was needed of the noise impact, and that planning committees were misled into believing that consultees had been aware the wider public would have access to the facility.”

http://localgovernmentlawyer.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=35472%3Ajudge-quashes-grant-of-planning-permission-for-watersports-hub&catid=63&Itemid=31