Issue - decisions
Future High Streets Fund Bid
The Cabinet considered a report detailing progress with the Council’s bid for funding from the Future High Streets Fund in respect of the Co-Op development scheme and setting out the next stages in the bid process. The Council’s initial ‘Expression of Interest’ had been selected to go forward to the next assessment stage which would involve producing a full business case for submission to the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government in November 2019 (MHCLG).
The Chairman stressed that this scheme was an important part of plans to reinvigorate the High Street which also reflected the changing nature and mix of offerings needed to have a vibrant High Street. He said that the Council was a key player in taking this forward and that it was right for the Council to invest in the future of the scheme.
The Strategic Director (Internal Services) explained that the MHCLG was looking for schemes that were ‘shovel ready’ and could progress quickly and to be considered as ‘shovel ready’, the scheme would need to have planning permission in place. In order to progress the Co-Op project so that it could form a central part of the Council’s bid, the developer for this project now needed to submit a planning application. In normal circumstances the developer would wait until any viability issues with the scheme had been identified and addressed before submitting a planning application. Given the timescales involved this would not be possible and in order to submit an application the developer was therefore looking for the Council to underwrite the costs of moving the scheme to the planning stage to the sum of £1.4m to mitigate the developer’s risk in the event that the scheme was unable to proceed.
The Chairman explained that the Council would be an important stakeholder and that it was proper for the Council to have ‘skin in the game’. He felt that a potential contribution of £1.4M in order to progress a scheme that was likely to involve a much greater total investment was reasonable in order to move the project forward. He noted that some Members of the Cabinet Advisory Panel had expressed concern that the Council was being asked to provide a guarantee to underwrite the developer’s costs, and ultimately their profits, to the tune of £1.4M when there was no certainty that the Council’s bid for Central Government funding would be successful. However the Cabinet Advisory Panel had welcomed the regeneration opportunities arising from the development and strongly supported the bid and endorsed the recommendations contained in the report. It was however suggested that the Cabinet might wish to caveat the underwriting of the developers costs to install a timeframe, or backstop, to the period during which it was prepared to underwrite these costs as well as capping the amount at £1.4M. Cabinet felt that, given that the amount was capped at £1.4M and that any further expenditure would require further Cabinet approval, it was unnecessary to install a backstop.
The Chairman thanked the Cabinet Advisory Panel for its comments and support and examined the various elements of the scheme and their readiness to progress and felt that the scheme stood a strong chance of moving forward. He noted that plans for a new health hub in Kent, similar to that proposed as part of the Co-Op scheme were at a similar stage of progression and that funding decisions on both were likely to be made next Spring. Members welcomed the proposed scheme and the need for regeneration of the site and noted the good progress of other development works in the town centre. The Chairman stressed that this was only the first phase of proposed works for the High Street and outlined his vision for creating a welcoming, but compressed, High Street which reflected modern needs and expectations whilst retaining an old fashioned feel.
A Member asked what would happen if the scheme ultimately became unviable for the current developer and what the Council would get in return if it had to make payment to the developer. The Strategic Director (Internal Services) explained that the Council would explore other funding options and look to work with other partners and that, by that stage, there would be far more information available as a result of technical evaluations having been carried out and detailed plans would have taken shape and could inform future decision making for the site. The Cabinet asked for clarification over whether the Council would own the plans and intellectual property prepared by the developer in the event that it was called upon to pay the costs as it felt that the Council should benefit from any work that it paid for.
1. That progress on the Future High Streets Fund bid be noted; and
2. That the Council underwrites the planning costs, in the sum of £1.4M, in respect of the Co-Op scheme, in the event that the scheme does not proceed.