14 (b) Consideration of the following late item which the Chairman has agreed should be taken as a matter of urgency by reason of special circumstances:
Call In – Development Site, The Grange, Midhurst
The Committee is requested to consider the call-in request, and determine whether to:
a) Uphold the original Cabinet decision, or
b) Refer the matter back to Cabinet, for further consideration, or
c) Refer the matter to Council for consideration.
Cabinet decision 564 of 4 September 2018 - Development Site - The Grange Midhurst had been called in, in accordance with the provisions set out in the Constitution, by Councillors McAra, Morley, Neville, Shaxson and O’Kelly.
The Chairman invited Mr Ward to present the report. The council was bound by law to seek ‘best consideration’ when disposing of land. There were some very exceptional circumstances where the council could dispose of land for consideration less than the best but the council would still have had to consider its duty to its residents and tax payers. In order to accept a lesser consideration the council would have to demonstrate that the lesser consideration would secure the improvement of the economic, social or environmental wellbeing of the area. Mr Ward confirmed that there is currently no such established policy for this in relation to the site. He also clarified that there had been no significant demand for a particular retail or office space in the bids received.
Councillors McAra and Morley addressed the Committee on behalf of the Call-in signatories. The signatories had felt that Midhurst would benefit from a retail or supermarket development, or housing for young people, in preference to a care home, with an emphasis on retail being apparent in the Local Plan. A petition against a care home development had been raised, and Members were concerned that there had been insufficient consultation with ward members and residents. Legal advice had not been provided in the Cabinet report, but had been assimilated at the Cabinet meeting and the decision did not appear to be aligned to the early-stage development of the Midhurst Vision.
In response to members questions officers emphasised that there had been a transparent process in place which all bidders had to follow and the process had been used by the council for other land disposals. The site had been marketed three times, and the subsequent planning process would provide opportunity for the public to respond to the application.
The legal advice provided to the Cabinet meeting had been reviewed and was sound; there had been sufficient information for the Cabinet to make its decision. The conduct of the Chairman of Cabinet had also been reviewed and no breach of the Code of Conduct in the handling of the meeting was identified.
Two public questioners asked questions at the meeting.
(1) Margaret Guest – Midhurst Town Council Member
Does the Committee consider that, in this case, sufficient information and evidence for ‘best value’ has been obtained to comply with the Council's duty of ‘due diligence’; particularly when there has been no comparative impact assessment of the full range of options, including their respective likely long term economic and wider social value for the local community?
Response by Mr Ward – Director Corporate Services
Mr Ward re-iterated that the Council had to achieve best consideration, that no other development options had been forthcoming and that the only other option would be not to dispose of the site. In the absence of any demonstrable justification for accepting a lesser consideration, such action would be deemed unlawful. Such a decision would also be in breach of state aid rules as the Council would be subsidising a private sector organisation.
(2) Fiona Mackay – Midhurst resident
i) How and where would the profit from the disposal be invested?
ii) Was a swimming pool development considered?
iii) Could the health provider that would be occupying the site be publicly identified?
Response by Mrs Hotchkiss – Director Growth and Place
i) The capital receipt from the disposal of the site had been earmarked to offset the cost of the Grange Community and Leisure Centre, which opened in 2014. The Midhurst Vision steering group had now been formed to prepare an action plan.
ii) The development of the Grange Community and Leisure Centre had been subject to consultation with the community and the viability of social and leisure options for Midhurst had been considered then.
iii) The public identification of the health provider that would occupy the site was exempt information pursuant to schedule 12A of the Local Government Act 1972.
A Member urged the Council to consider developing a policy for disposals where less than best consideration could be demonstrated, to secure the promotion or improvement of the economic, social or environmental well-being of the area. The Chairman explained that such a suggestion could be considered for inclusion on the future work programme of the Committee.
Members surmised that no social or cultural bids for the site had come forward, and that the Council had been prudent in accepting, rather than rejecting a significant bid for the site. Both the retail economy and the demography of the district were changing and the new Grange Community and Leisure centre, and library were growing community assets in Midhurst.
A vote was taken by a show of hands and by six votes for, three votes against and three abstentions, the Committee -
RESOLVED: To uphold the original Cabinet decision.