Council chiefs publish 'confidential' reports on controversial hq and housing plans - The Leamington Observer

Council chiefs publish 'confidential' reports on controversial hq and housing plans

Leamington Editorial 10th May, 2018   0

AFFORDABLE housing could have been included in plans to develop Warwick District Council’s headquarters in Leamington – but it would have made the authority’s move to a new purpose-built hq on the site of Covent Garden car park unfeasible.

That is the verdict of independent experts, employed by the district council, to report on the controversial plans agreed by the Conservative-run authority.

It follows the publication this week of the so-called ‘viability assessments’ by applicants PSP Warwick LLP – a joint venture between the district council and PSP Facilitating Limited, which works with public sector organisations to deliver development projects – and the independent council commissioned report by JLL scrutinising the application.

The council had been under pressure to publish the previously confidential reports for public scrutiny following pressure, most notably from Labour district councillors and Warwick and Leamington Labour MP Matt Western.

The council’s planning committee gave the green-light in January to an outline planning application for up to 170 new homes on the current site of the council’s ageing Milverton Hill hq, and for plans to build new headquarters on the site of Covent Garden, together with 44 apartments, and a new 620-space car park.

But there was an outcry after no affordable housing was included at either site, contrary to the council’s own policy stating developments of more than 11 homes should include 40 per cent affordable housing.

The council however emphasised its policy, in the agreed Local Plan, allowed applicants to “vary from this requirement” if they could show the scheme was not otherwise financially viable – a case made in the Riverside House and Covent Garden applications, which assesses the profitability of the two schemes in combination.

But the detailed report by JLL states if considered separately, the Riverside House plans could potentially have been profitable with affordable housing, although the Covent Garden plans would not have been viable. It also states developers look to make around 20 per cent profit.

It has prompted Labour to accuse the council of building itself new offices at the expense of affordable housing.

District council Labour leader Kristie Naimo said she was still going through the fine detail of the newly published documents but welcomed their release.

She told The Observer: “This is good news for the case of openness and transparency – although it is worrying that it has taken residents and councillors over six months of questions and lobbying to see these documents.

“It is also concerning that members of the planning committee only had two days with these reports before making a decision.”

The council said it had been standard practice for commercial confidentiality reasons that only members of the planning committee and relevant planning officers had access to the confidential viability assessment information – something the authority was now reviewing.

Council leader Andrew Mobbs said: “This step will enable everyone to see both the case made by the applicant and the independent professional advice that was considered by the planning committee in making their decision.

“In addition, the advice now received has prompted the council to start a review of its policy of how it treats the confidentiality of financial viability reports at planning committee.”

The council also emphasised the planning committee would have the power to reassess the provision of affordable housing at the Riverside House site when the development was underway if financial circumstances changed.

Coun Mobbs has previously stated the Riverside House/Covent Gardens plans would save the council £300,000 a year in running costs, and would also provide a boost to the town centre economy.

Click here to read the reports in full.


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