Brockhampton West – Selling off the family silver again?

Or perhaps more accurately, ‘the family landfill’. Nevertheless, despite its inauspicious history, Brockhampton West (see below) is an extremely attractive plot of land strategically positioned at the junction of the A27 and the A3(M). At 10:30 this evening, we received formal notification from Havant Borough Council of their decision to dispose of Brockhampton West.

This afternoon’s Extraordinary Cabinet Meeting of Havant Borough Council had been called to decide the future of this plot of land and you can watch the main parts of the proceedings by following the video clips further down this post.

Allocated for ‘Commercial Development’ in the current pre-submission version of the Local Plan 2036, the strategic position of ‘Broadmarsh West’ makes it ideally suited as a warehouse / distribution hub supporting ‘last mile’ delivery into Havant borough. (Or possibly, if ground contamination issues could be resolved and if we had a more ambitious council with a real vision, a harbourside hotel and conference centre.)

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves….

Given the vision sold to external development partners by the Havant Regeneration Strategy, you would have thought that any council capable of lateral thinking would jump at the chance of holding onto the land and reaping the benefit of potential income from the asset. But this is Havant.

Let’s skip to the Cabinet Meeting. It’s worth watching Council Leader Michael Wilson’s introduction to the item in the following video clip. Pay attention from 1:55 onward, to the actions which have been taken since March this year, actions which seem to have deliberately avoided both Council back bench and public scrutiny.

If you want to read the Cabinet briefing paper, or at least the version that’s been censored for the Press and the Council Tax payers, you can find it here. Down in the detail, you’ll find that the council were actually spoilt for choice for potential bidders. This really ought to have raised a few red flags.

At this point, deputations were heard. Firstly, Pat Brooks made a well meaning deputation on behalf of Friends of the Earth and Havant Climate Alliance. All good points which, we suspect, fell on deaf ears and closed minds.

The refreshing surprise then came in the form of a deputation from a man armed with the necessary flags, St Faith’s own Cllr Tim Pike. This deputation made us sit up and listen, and should, we think, have made the Cabinet do the same.

Have a listen, it’s only five minutes but he makes six very pertinent points:

Let’s revisit Tim’s six points here. The main thrust of his argument is that this decision need not, and should not be rushed, but should be properly and openly scrutinised, debated and decided.

1 – Urgency

Cllr Pike had originally brought the option of selling the Broadmarsh West site to Cabinet as a way of achieving funding for implementation of the regeneration strategy. Clare Chester’s presentation to the Operations and Place Shaping Board last week did not indicate any urgency for funding and therefore there is still time to defer this decision and carry out the appropriate level of due diligence to ensure that it’s right.

While it is not possible to ringfence funds for the purpose, Cllr Pike believes that a statement of intent to keep capital receipts within the borough could and should be made.

2 – The Deal

Havant Borough Council does not have a great track record in property transactions. Cllr Pike takes the Cabinet back to the sale of the Potash Terrace site for £3.4M in 2006, noting that it was sold on four years later by the developer for £20M. This current project looks set to go the same way and so he would strongly recommend that a decision be deferred until such time as all appropriate due diligence has been carried out.

3 – The Financials

Cllr Pike believes that there are other ways of closing the difference between the bids presented to the Cabinet in the papers that only they have previously seen. He believes that further analysis should achieve a higher figure.

4 – Changes since original presentation to Cabinet.

There is a much stronger need with in the MTFS (Medium Term Financial Strategy) for revenue within the budget, something which the Leader indicated was a requirement for £12.1m over 5 years. Cllr Pike expresses doubt that the business potential has been sufficiently explored and believes that with appropriate thought, ongoing revenue from the Brockhampton West site could contribute significantly to filling that £12.1m gap.

5 – Lack of scrutiny

This, Cllr Pike says, has been ‘very disappointing’. Back Benchers have been refused access to the documents currently available to the Cabinet. This has not happened since the five councils decision of 2016 and he hopes that this decision ‘won’t go the same way’.

6 – Environmental impacts

Put simply, Cllr Pike believes in the importance of the environmental points brought up by the other deputations. While commercial use of the site is the right way to go, there is no reason why, for example, Solar PV should not be incorporated into the design of the roofing. There is also additional land to the south of Harts Farm Way which could be used for the purpose of a Solar farm. (We do think that he may be slightly mistaken there since that land is actually allocated in the plan for bird mitigation. However, as we have remarked before, the Campdown site to the north is where the birds themselves would prefer to graze.)

There then followed (remarkably few) questions on these points:

At this point, the Cabinet was directed by the Chair to move into exempt session, excluding the Press and the Public from hearing the discussion and debate on the detail of the bids already assessed.

With the cabinet and the officers engaged in 45 minutes of (probably heated) discussion of Cllr Pike’s well made points, the rest of us adjourned to our respective kitchens for a well earned, socially distanced cup of tea….

What happened when they came back can be seen next.

And so the sale of the site has been approved. The chosen bidder had already been selected, Lambert Smith and Hampton will be more than happy with their commision on the deal, and the geese can move in and graze in peace while the new owner sits on his new asset for a few years while the profits from his investment mount up.

Watch out for Broadmarsh West coming back on the market in a few years time with outline planning permission and a significantly inflated valuation.

Another opportunity lost?


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