Agenda item

Acquisition of KCC Land at North Farm Lane

Exempt paragraph 3 – Information relating to the financial or business affairs of any particular person (including the authority holding that information).


This report is to follow.


The report before the Board set out the case for the proposed purchase from Kent County Council of the freehold title of the former gypsy site in North Farm Lane, Tunbridge Wells, in order to create employment opportunities for the benefit of the Borough. The report set out the principal terms negotiated with KCC for the purchase.


Councillor Webb, a visiting member, spoke first on this item. He felt that there were some significant risks with this proposal which had not been addressed in the report. He also: (i) asked specifically about the impact of the ecological significance of the site; (ii) sought clarification on the ‘clawback’ provisions; (iii) felt that, in comparison, the County Council was taking no risks in the deal; and (iv) believed that a more circumspect deal for the Borough Council should be achieved.


Diane Brady, the Property and Development Manager, responded to all of the above issues as follows: (i) the ecological aspect of the site, on which studies had already been carried out, was explained; (ii) the ‘clawback’ on any future sale of the site had been negotiated at 10 years, during which time if the Borough Council sought to dispose of the site, rather than use for employment purposes, the clawback would apply; (iii) while acknowledging that KCC were protecting their own interests in the proposal, the Borough Council would be able to deliver a significant economic benefit if the recommendation were accepted; (iv) the Borough Council was being treated in exactly the same way as an external applicant in terms of seeking planning consent.


The Leader of the Council, who had responsibility for property, explained the rationale behind the proposal, which was to establish small start-up units, which would provide employment for local people. He added that he had been in discussions with KCC for over two years, to achieve this benefit for the Borough, in which the role of the late Councillor Kevin Lynes had been significant.


The Advisory Board members considered the content of the report and its recommendation and made the following comments:


·         Councillor Poile enquired whether the Borough Council’s objectives could still be achieved without purchasing the site. The Leader of the Council advised that, through outright ownership, the Borough Council would have complete control and receive 100% of the revenue stream;

·         Councillor Rook asked whether any figures were available for the income that could be achieved from the starter units. Miss Brady advised that no specific calculations were available, adding that the estimates made to date were based on professional assumptions;

·         Councillor Rook also enquired what exactly would be developed on the site, as this was absent from the recommendation. The Leader of the Council advised that the site would be used to develop employment opportunities and growth for the  Borough;

·         Councillor Horwood stated that he would like to see much more detail on issues such as the risks, the costs and a proper analysis of the proposal, before he could support it;

·         Councillor Mrs Soyke enquired how much Southern Water were likely to demand for the supply of their services to the site. Miss Brady advised that the exact figure was not known, adding that it depended very much on the scale of the development.


Members of the Development Advisory Panel (who were not already members of this Board) had been invited to attend the meeting, to indicate their views on the proposal. Councillor Derrick voiced her support and welcomed the provision of small start-up units, especially for the creative industry.


As part of the summing up process, Paul Cummins, the Legal Services Manager and Monitoring Officer, drew attention to a proposed amendment to the recommendation, to remove reference to the Portfolio-holder for Finance and Governance, due to his ‘other significant interest’ by virtue of him being a county councillor.


Councillor Horwood felt that another member should be named to replace the portfolio-holder, possibly the Vice-Chairman of this Board or another Cabinet portfolio-holder. It was agreed that Councillor Mrs Soyke, as the Vice-Chairman of this Board, would be an ideal choice.


RESOLVED – That the revised recommendation, as set out below, be supported:


That Cabinet decide whether to purchase the former gypsy site on the principal terms detailed and delegate authority to the Property and Development Manager, in consultation with the S151 Officer, the Leader of the Council and the Vice-Chairman of the Finance and Governance Cabinet Advisory Board, to undertake all work necessary to carry out the decision.


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