This Regeneration Programme isn’t dead, it’s just resting

For those unsure of the reference, or those fortunately too young to recall, here’s a reminder.

Yesterday afternoon, Havant Borough Council’s Cabinet officially closed down the Civic Centre Car Park Redevelopment project, Phase 1 of the Havant Regeneration Programme.

As most of you will know, there’s a fair amount of history involved in this one going back to 2018 when it first broke cover with the publication of the ‘Opportunity Havant – A Regeneration Strategy for Havant Borough – 2018-2036‘. This future vision of the borough had clearly been in preparation for some months before that, both in the council’s own ranks and in the offices of Fabrik, HBC’s favoured architecture practice and Munro Studios, their favoured visionaries.

Our friends and neighbours in Langstone and Hayling got very excited about the prospect of a second bridge, while the rest of us got very excited about the council’s new favourite buzzword – they were going to adopt an interventionist approach!

Two sentences in particular raised our spirits: “Where necessary the Council will utilise its Compulsory Purchase Powers to bring forward schemes and will make the required budget available. This will give greater certainty over delivery of the Regeneration Programme.

To us, this meant that the long derelict sites in East Street and West Street would magically transform into the new world, banning the tumbleweed for good.

But then we read the small print – Phase 1 would just cover “Quick wins, sites entirely in HBC ownership & opportunities for income generation“. The former turned out to be the Civic Plaza car park, the latter being the purchase of the Meridian Centre.

Here are some of the previous posts on this blog which will fill you in with the two years of frantic inactivity which followed. Click the links to read the posts:

That brings us more or less up to date.

When the Cabinet Papers for yesterday’s meeting were released, we read Cllr. Wilson’s report entitled ‘Closure of Civic Plaza Car Park Redevelopment project’. It’s a depressingly inevitable read though it tries to end on a positive note.

Here’s a slightly hesitant introduction and precis of the paper by Cllr. Wilson:

The deputation by Mr Comlay was something of a trademark rant, so if you don’t want to listen, you can read the text here. He raises a few points which appear to have got under the skin of a couple of those present as you’ll see later. However, rather than take the opportunity to question Mr Comlay while he was in attendance, Cllrs. Inkster and Hughes kept the powder in their sniping rifles dry until the debate. (No surprise there, this is normal practice for a council that shuns engagement with the public.)

Cllr. Wilson then opened the floor to questions on his own paper and after a few technical gremlins, Cllr. Narinder Bains probed a little deeper about the £185,000 spent to date. She wondered whether anything could be salvaged from that effort.

Cllr. Wilson expressed the sentiment that this was “Hopefully a postponement rather than a full stop” before turning to Clare Chester for her usual confident sounding support.

You can follow the exchange here:

In the next clip, Cllr. Bowerman appeared not to have actually read the document, thinking we could hang on to the £3.36 million and do something else with it. Clare Chester quickly and efficiently sets the record straight again.

So with no further questions from the floor, Cllr. Wilson asks if anybody would like to ‘debate this matter’, prompting Cllr’s Inkster and Hughes to turn to the notes on their doodling pads. Worth a listen:

It is indeed important to clarify Cllr. Inkster’s two points, since he chose to wait until Mr. Comlay was no longer in the meeting!

“I’d like to reassure all the residents of Havant that we didn’t reach the sale of Brockhampton West for any form of funding gap or anything else and I think that needs to be firmly clarified, the two are not related and indeed it was open to very robust and searching scrutiny

However, we would pull Cllr. Inkster up on his complaint about Mr Comlay’s alleged use of the term ‘stitch up’ in the following passage from his deputation:

“Your failure to achieve even 75% of the Housing Delivery target in the Ministry’s January report make such a radical approach imperative. Instead of stitching up deals between developers and local landowners at the expense of the town, stand up for Havant, push back and hit the ‘Reset’ button.” 

Had Cllr. Inkster taken the trouble to read the material presented in context, his interpretation might have been more accurate. We’d agree that Mr Comlay could have used a less emotive expression, say ‘closing with the usual level of scrutiny’, but in these cases where a deputee is against a clock with just five minutes to complete a presentation, we think the snipe was unjustified.

We’ll come back to that passage after you’ve listened to Cllr. Hughes. After kicking off with a well aimed and doubtless much doodled sarcastic flourish, he soon comes over all defensive about the housing performance numbers before descending into a rather aimless discussion with himself about green field sites being nutrient negative. [Worth fact checking that one – Ed.]

He’s clearly a little rattled by the fact that Havant Borough Council are the only authority in the county to have failed to reach 75% in the latest Housing Delivery Test, only managing a score of 72%. Had he managed to get to the 75%, then the Housing Delivery Action Plan he presented a couple of weeks ago might have been even less of a waste of time. As it is, failing to even reach 75%, this Housing Delivery Action Plan becomes irrelevant, hence Mr Comlay’s perhaps contentious point about ‘stitching up deals between developers and local landowners‘.

So there we are, not really much of a debate but then there never will be in a Council with no credible opposition. In any event, they could hardly not vote for the matter since it’s already happened! The item Item was documented in the official minutes thus:

“In response to the deputation submitted, Cabinet reassured that the sale of Brockhampton West had not been rushed in order to fill a funding gap and that regeneration through an interventionalist approach remained a key aim of the administration.”

Not that we expected any of the more fundamental points to be addressed! Which brings us to a final point, which actually also has some relevance to the stitching up of deals between developers and local landowners. Has anybody else noticed that while the official Regeneration has been going nowhere slowly, the unofficial regeneration, 44-54 West Street and the East Street and The Pallant developments, have been surging ahead. And it’s not lost on us that Portsmouth Water are up to a few things too.

As ‘Bones’ McCoy might have put it, “There’s regeneration Jim, but not as we know it”