A Princes Parade Poem

Princes Parade

 

The great, green parade unfolds

under the February sun.

The sound of a plane intrudes

upon a thousand bird songs.

 

The machines never far away

from princely vegetation,

where people come to walk their dogs

and ease dog-tired minds.

 

It will soon be consumed.

Shapeless men in striped suits,

whipped, agree to desolate

 

this place, where crowds of reeds

sway in the breeze,

at the banks of the canal.

 

by Jenni Hawkins

Redacted Reports from 13th Feb Cabinet Meeting Now Published

The council have now published some of the reports discussed at the 13th February cabinet meeting. Unfortunately they have been redacted

Supplement Princes Parade business case 13022019 1700 Cabinet

It looks as if the councillors weren’t given the crucial treasury management report from Arlingclose (which I’m still trying to get hold of) nor the crucial Betteridge & Milsom report. The B&M report is in the public domain but the councillors would have had to know that it existed and make the effort to find it. So it looks like the only financial information they had on the PP project project as a whole was the summary on p23 of the report from The Sports Consultancy. Hardly enough information on which to base such a big decision.

Examination of Local Plan

Those of you who submitted comments on the Policies and Places Local Plan and asked to speak at the Examination in Public will have received an email asking you to confirm your attendance.Save Princes Parade will make sure that we have an official representative at the relevant part of the hearing. The suggestion is that there will only be room for one representative of each group at the table so we would be grateful if you could leave that space for our representative.

We believe that there will be a “public gallery” for those who wish to observe but not take part in the proceedings – we will confirm that.

The hearing will be from May 14th for 4 days. The programme suggests that Princes Parade would be discussed on 14th May in the afternoon.

More information on the plan and the examination on this link https://www.folkestone-hythe.gov.uk/planning/planning-policy/local-plan/places-policies

Council Approves Capital Programme

Last week the council’s cabinet voted to approve the business case for Princes Parade despite the fact that the officer’s report was clear that the financial estimates in the confidential information were just indicative and that the project was based on a number of assumptions and carries a number of risks.

This Wednesday, the full council was asked to approve the £33m Medium Term Capital Programme to 2023/4. This includes £29m for the Princes Parade project.

Those councillors who are not Cabinet members and not members of the Overview & Scrutiny Committee will not have seen the confidential papers and yet only one councillor bothered to speak about this item. Well done Susie Govett. The Programme was approved 22 for, 3 against.

With a Conservative majority on the council it was too much to hope that the council would vote against this but surely there should have been some debate before it went to the vote?

We do of course appreciate that this is not a £29m cost to the council because they are hoping to recoup most of the money in capital receipts but as we have been saying all along if the council’s consultants have overestimated the value of the land to be sold or underestimated the costs of preparing the site and building the leisure centre it is the council tax payer who will bear the loss. Should councils be taking these sorts of risks?

You can watch this part of the council meeting on this link: https://folkestone-hythe.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/392559

Email to Councillors

Here is the text of the email we have sent to all councillors ahead of next week’s Overview & Scrutiny Committee and Cabinet meetings:

Dear Councillor

Exclusion of the Public

It is very disappointing and frustrating that the council is persisting with its intention to exclude the public from part of the Overview & Scrutiny Committee and Cabinet meetings next week despite the representations from our solicitor and others.

The law does allow councils to exclude the public from meetings (provided the correct notice is given) if they will be discussing information relating to the financial or business affairs of any particular person. That “person” could be the council itself.

However, there is one important exception to this: “ Information is not exempt information if it relates to proposed development for which the local planning authority may grant itself planning permission pursuant to regulation 3 of the Town and Country Planning General Regulations 1992”.

FHDC have not yet formally granted planning permission so this exception still applies to next week’s meetings.

Dr Priest is trying to claim that this exception only applies to the discussion of the planning application not the business case but there is nothing in the law that limits the exception in that way.

Whether or not to allow the public to remain in the meetings is a matter of law not a political decision. Our solicitor is of the view that to exclude the public from the meetings would be unlawful. Dr Priest has declined to show us the legal opinion that the council has obtained about this.

Dr Priest has stated “It is, of course, for the members of the Cabinet to decide whether or not to exclude the public from the meeting.  Objections to the exclusion will be placed before Councillors so they can take them into account.  The public interest will also be considered prior to any decision on whether or not to consider the matter in private.”

On behalf of the members of Save Princes Parade I would argue that it is very much in the public interest for the discussion of the Princes Parade Business Plan to be held in public in order to reassure local residents that the council would not be taking unnecessary financial risks should cabinet resolve to continue with the Princes Parade project. Therefore I would ask you not to vote to exclude the public from either of next week’s meetings.

Loss of Oversight of the Project

The recommendation in report C/18/69 is that cabinet authorise the Corporate Director – in consultation with the Leader of the Council and the Cabinet Member for Special Projects – to implement the steps necessary to deliver the Princes Parade project and also to dispose of the existing Hythe Swimming Pool site.

But by doing that, the other cabinet members and members of the Overview & Scrutiny Committee will lose oversight and control of the project and also have no say in the future of the existing pool site. This would also mean that there will be no possibility of public scrutiny of the progress of the project when surely the council should be aiming for as much transparency as possible.

Report C/18/69 makes clear in para 4.4 that the financial estimates remain indicative at this stage and in para 5.1 that the development of the project to date has been based on a number of assumptions. Para 5.1 also lists some significant risks associated with the project.

It is therefore far too early for cabinet to be ceding control of the project. After all it is the elected members of the council who will be held responsible by the public for any financial losses or environmental damage caused by the project not going to plan.

Report C/18/69 refers to the Arlingclose review and also a more detailed risk register and a recently updated options appraisal but none of the documents appear to have been provided in full to councillors.

Comments on Report C/18/69

Para 1.3 states that the Environment Agency has withdrawn its objection to the surface water being drained into the canal and claims that “these issues have been resolved”. However, as I pointed out in my email of 26 January, the Environment Agency refers to this option as being “just-about-viable” and says that discharge into the sea would be the overwhelmingly preferable option. They say that discharge into the canal (option B) should be an emergency fall back option only.

They go on to say “We would need quite a degree of liaison and persuasion from any prospective developer if this alternative option B is pursued.”

So it is not true that these issues have been resolved.

The EA also points out that option B would incur significant costs. Have these been taken into account?

https://saveprincesparade.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Ea-Letter-17.1.19.pdf

Para 1.3 also states that the National Planning Casework Unit have been notified of the current position so that the Secretary of State can consider whether to call in the application. However in an email to us dated 6 February 2019 the planning officer says “Folkestone and Hythe District Council have not informed the National Planning Casework Unit that we are ready to issue the decision.”

Appendix 2  is a diagram showing the masterplan of the site. What it omits to show is that if option B is adopted to deal with the surface water then a considerable amount of the western open space will be taken up by a pond – as shown in this diagram from the latest Herrington’s report.

Para 2.4  gives the impression that the project will somehow cure the contamination.  It will not because the contaminants will remain in situ and will get disturbed by piling and excavations as the project progresses even after initial remediation.

Para 2.4 also says that if the Princes Parade project does not go ahead then the council will need to consider addressing the current levels of contamination. However, para 7.5.1 of this report

https://saveprincesparade.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Geo-Environment.pdf

states “As the majority of the site is heavily vegetated potential exposure to underlying made ground is significantly reduced. Therefore the risk to the general public and current site users is considered to be low.”

In other words there would be no need to remediate the Princes Parade site if the development did not go ahead.

Para 2.25 Without the benefit of being able to see the Business Case for the leisure centre it is hard to be sure but it seems unlikely that there is an unmet latent demand for 2300 memberships. What catchment area does this cover?

We are also concerned that the reference to living wage incurring an additional average cost implies that the intention is to pay staff less than the living wage which would not be acceptable.

We have had sight of the slides presented to the Princes Parade Working Group in March 2018 which claim a very optimistic 351276 users per annum ie 960 per day. Is that realistic?

Para 2.7 – What are the status and conditions attached to the £1.978m grant.  Is it specifically for expenditure on Princes Parade?

Para 2.10 The failure to disclose to the public the Procurement & Programme Review is a major concern since this should cover the all-important matter of project management control of this complex project and where the day-to-day responsibilities will lie. It is very much in the public interest for the council to demonstrate that the project will be properly managed.

Para 3.2 is vague about how the disposal of the residential/commercial land will proceed. Given that the viability of the project is totally reliant on the proceeds of the land sales it would be reckless to commit to the leisure centre construction work in the absence of a binding contract to purchase the land  – and vice versa.

It talks about commencing the disposal of the existing Hythe Pool site (recommendation 4) once planning permission has been granted and at the same stage as the procurement of the core consultant team.

Does that mean the current pool site could be sold off before the new leisure centre is built i.e. no useable pool in Hythe for a year or two? Or longer if there are construction delays? Or a risk of no pool at all if building costs suddenly escalate substantially once they get started on the PP site?

Para 4.2 Bullet Point 9 says “the council is most likely to have to take on the affordable housing and commercial development elements of the overall project.” What does this mean in terms of cost to the council? Presumably this is an acknowledgement that the site will be very expensive and complicated to develop meaning that a third party developer would not consider affordable housing to be financially viable. As I pointed out in my last email using the off-site affordable housing section 106 money to subsidise the PP project would not be acceptable unless the intention is to build an allocation of affordable housing re the Imperial Green development in addition to the 30% affordable housing that will derive from the PP development.

FHDC response to SPP’s email of 29.1.19

I assume that Dr Priest’s response to our last email has been circulated to all councillors. The council is still missing the point that certain costs have been costs have been omitted because they have fallen into the gap between the B&M calculation and the Savill’s valuation.

Worryingly, in response to our point 6 about the inclusion of the Imperial Green off site affordable housing s106 monies as income of the scheme the council say “It should be remembered that the basis for this proposal is that it is an enabling scheme.” Does this mean that, despite all the promises that this project will provide affordable housing, it is unlikely to provide as much as it should?

Note that the B&M response to Dr Burrell’s critique states that the hotel and restaurant would be provided by a developer whereas according to para 4.2 of the officer’s report Arlingclose say the council will have to take that on.

Conclusion

The proposals for Princes Parade are extremely unpopular with local people and represent a huge risk to the council – financial, reputational and otherwise. The information provided to you is still at the indicative stage and based on a number of assumptions.

We would therefore urge you not to approve the business case and not to delegate the delivery of the project but instead to halt it. Failing that we would urge you to keep control of the project and to delay implementation of it until officers are in a position to offer you more certainty that it will not become a financial black hole.

 

 

FHDC Response to SPP re Financials

Towards the end of January we sent an email to all councillors on behalf of the members of SPP summarising our concerns about the financial viability calculations. Our comments were based on the Betteridge & Milsom calculations published in the summer of 2018 shortly before the determination of the planning application. We were aware that there is an updated version of this but as it is not in the public domain we were not able to refer to it.

A number of the councillors acknowledged receipt of the email. Today we received a response from Dr Priest (who was not copied in on the email) rebutting our comments.

In the interests of openness we are posting that response here. Dr Priest’s responses refers to a more detailed critique of the financial viability calculations which was submitted to officers by Dr Burrell.

Response to SPP email 7.2.19

BM Response to GB Critique Feb 19

Savills response to GB Critique Feb 19

The council still seem to missing the point that certain costs have been costs have been omitted because they have fallen down the gap between the B&M calculation and the Savill’s valuation. The details of the Savill’s valuation are not in the public domain so it is difficult to take this any further at this stage.

Worryingly, in response to our point 6 about the inclusion of the Imperial Green off site affordable housing s106 monies as income of the scheme the council say “It should be remembered that the basis for this proposal is that it is an enabling scheme.” (They mean to financially enable the new leisure centre). In other words, despite all the promises that this project will provide affordable housing, it is unlikely to provide as much as it should ie that due from Imperial Green plus the 30% from the PP project itself.

The council do concede that the financial viability of the scheme could alter as the project progresses and this is the main reason that we are so concerned that one the recommendations for next Wednesday’s council meeting is to delegate delivery of the project to the officers . This will mean next to no democratic or public oversight for a project whose costs are still very much just at the indicative stage.

The council have completely ignored the section of Dr Burrell’s report where he discusses costs that he believes have been underestimated or omitted from the financial viability calculations.

 

 

FHDC have not Informed NPCU

Paragraph 1.3 of the officer’s report that will be presented to the Overview & Scrutiny Committee and Cabinet next week states that the National Planning casework Unit have been notified of the current position in order that the Secretary of State can consider whether or not to call in the application.

The planning officer has just confirmed by email that this is not the case. Folkestone and Hythe District Council have not informed the National Planning Casework Unit that they are ready to issue the decision.

Cabinet Wed 13th February 5pm

The agenda for next week’s cabinet meeting has now been published. It is pretty much the same as for the Overview & Scrutiny meeting on the previous day.

The public will be excluded from part of both meetings but we do need a good turnout in the public gallery so please join us.

Tues 12th Feb 7pm and Wed 13th Feb at 5pm

Civic Centre, Castle Hill Avenue,
Folkestone, Kent CT20 2QY

We are working on an email on behalf of our members to the councillors based on the limited information that we have been allowed to see.

http://www.folkestone-hythe.gov.uk/moderngov/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=142&MId=4577