The Overview and Scrutiny Committee will be pre-scrutinising this report at a meeting on 3rd January 2019 and may make recommendations. Should this occur an extract from the minutes of that meeting, detailing the recommendations, will be published in an additional papers pack.
The Portfolio Holder for Economic Development, Town Centre and Commercialism introduced the report and took the opportunity to thank officers for their hard work put in to getting to this stage. He advised that this was a long overdue project, the dated centres no longer met the requirements of the local residents and it was hoped that the improvements would bring a much improved and better outcome to the whole area.
The Interim Head of North Worcestershire Economic Development and Regeneration (NWEDR) provide Members with a summary of the report, which included the following areas:
· The aim of the soft market testing, with the support of Homes England would be to refine the proposals and scheme that could be delivered.
· The need to attract new investment in the areas to mitigate the costs to the Council.
· The One Public Estate (OPE) bid for £200k to support the costs of the initial process.
· The Homes England Delivery Partner Panel and the experience they had in delivering similar projects.
· The importance in setting out the Council’s proposals and being clear about the terms of any proposals moving forward.
· Consultation with residents would take place following completion of this initial stage.
Members raised concerns around the number of new market and affordable homes suggested and what proportion of Council Housing Stock would be included, as currently there was the potential loss of 29 Council Houses. It was highlighted that this was something which had been discussed in detail at the Overview and Scrutiny Committee and that a recommendation had been put forward following its pre-scrutiny exercise. The Chair advised that the project was at its earliest stage and that such detail would follow on from this. The Portfolio Holder for Economic Development, Town Centre and Commercialism advised that the Council’s ambition was to improve the area and the housing through the project; however it was difficult to be prescriptive at this early stage. It was confirmed that any developer would be expected to support the Council’s current planning policy in respect of housing stock.
The Chair drew Members’ attention to the additional papers pack 2, which contained the recommendation from the Overview and Scrutiny Committee. Councillor Hartnett proposed the recommendation and it was seconded by Councillor Chance.
The proposed additional recommendation stated the following:
“assurances be given that no Council housing stock or business unit assets would be lost from the redevelopment of the Winyates and Matchborough district centres.”
The Chair invited Councillor Joe Baker, Chair of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee to speak. Councillor Baker thanked the Chair for the opportunity to do so and advised that the Committee had discussed the report in detail and had expressed concerns regarding the re-development, as they had been mindful of mistakes which had been made in previous projects; particular reference being made to Church Hill. It was important that Ward Members were consulted and listened to as they had a wide local knowledge of the centres. Mistakes which had been made with previous projects had been costly and it was therefore also important to protect the Council from any unexpected additional costs at a later date. However, Councillor Baker went on to say that the Committee’s major concern had been the loss of Council housing stock and any income from other sources such as retail units in the centres. Whilst the inclusion of affordable housing was welcomed this covered a wide sprectrum and it was important to ensure that the current Council housing stock numbers were retained at best, but hopefully improved upon. Anecdotally, a Member commented that there had been involvement in previous projects by the relevant Ward Councillors through a number of meetings.
Whilst the Portfolio Holder for Economic Development, Town Centre and Commercialism understood the sentiment behind the recommendation it was felt that it would be difficult at this early stage to support such a restriction. He suggested that he would support an alternative wording, which did not include reference to business unit assets.
Councillor Baker reiterated that the Committee had simply asked for assurances that there would be no loss, whilst accepting that it was difficult to predict what the final project outcome would look like, although it was the housing stock which was the most important area for consideration. Councillor Hartnett also commented that it was important that the Council maintained any income stream available from the business units, particularly in light of the difficult financial times the Council was currently facing.
On being put to the vote the recommendation was lost.
Councillor Hartnett proposed a further addendum to (i) of the recommendations included within the report in agenda pack, that “protects and enhances the number and quality of RBC Housing stock currently provided at both sites and further protects and replaces the income generated by RBC business units existing currently.” This was seconded by Councillor Chance.
The comments that had previously been made to explain why this was not possible were reiterated and after further discussion and with the agreement of Councillor Hartnett, his proposed addendum was withdrawn, and the addition of (b) below was made to the recommendations within the report. It was
a) the proposal for a comprehensive approach to the redevelopment of Matchborough and Winyates District Centres and the creation of up to 400 new market and affordable homes as party of the development be noted;
b) assurances be given that there will be no net loss in Council housing stock in the future development of the Matchborough and Winyates District Centres;
c) the bid for One Public Estate (OPE) funding to support the Council in the feasibility study and the options appraisal for such a development as detailed in Appendix 1 be noted;
d) the Council agrees to work with Homes England and its Delivery Partner Panel to ‘soft market test’ its proposals with members of the panel at no additional cost to the Council, and with no ongoing obligation; and
e) the establishment of a partnership board involving Redditch Council, Homes England, Worcestershire County Council and Arrow Vale Academy to oversee the continuing work on all aspect of the project be noted.