Thu, 10 Dec 2020
ANOTHER £345,000 of taxpayers’ cash must be spent before West Berkshire Council can apply for planning permission to redevelop the London Road Industrial Estate.
That’s according to a council report, which says it will need to pay consultants £300,000 to “progress the scheme through to a planning application”, along with a one-off £45,000 budget on assessing the feasibility of the redevelopment.
The council is requesting to spend the £300,000 in £100,000 payments for the next three years, initially from its revenue budget.
It said that some of these costs may be able to be come from its capital budget as part of any future development, but as the project is at an early stage, the works will come from revenue.
On December 17, the council’s executive is expected to sign off that investment and press ahead with the project, which has been in the pipeline since 2003.
The council, which has opted to redevelop the 27.5 acre Newbury site in phases, wants to begin construction in two years and complete the project by 2030.
It comes after Avison Young completed a development brief, which states that 280 homes, 3,473 sq m of office space and 5,400 sq m of space for other businesses can be built during a phased development.
According to the brief, the council may need to use compulsory purchase orders to obtain property without the consent of the leaseholders, but executive member for finance Ross Mackinnon (Con, Bradfield) has said they will only be used as “an absolute last resort”.
The brief also outlined an option for one comprehensive development, but the council says this would require an “enormous upfront” investment and be more challenging and riskier.
The Conservative-run council owns around £7.7m of commercial property on the estate and each year it collects around £400,000 of rent from the businesses which currently occupy it.
Those businesses have signed long-term leases, ranging from 25 to 90 years, and the development briefs say many will either have to vacate the site or be relocated.
In 2018, the project suffered a major setback when the Court of Appeal ruled the council had breached EU law by failing to follow the correct procurement process when it appointed St Modwen Plc as the developer.
The council spent more than £945,000 on the botched redevelopment project and legal fees.
All of the decisions which were made before the council ended up in court have been scrutinised by a task group made up of five councillors.
In a report, they criticised the council for taking “a piecemeal approach”, failing to use “proper project management methodology”, not keeping adequate records and failing to draw up a detailed business case for the project.
But they also said there is no evidence to suggest the council intended to act unlawfully and it “acted reasonably having taken expert advice” from advisers.