Firgrove Parade – Rushmoor Borough Council’s position

More bullshit from Rushmoor

secret report on quashing restrictive covenant

secret report on quashing restrictive covenant

secret report on quashing restrictive covenant

secret report on quashing restrictive covenant

There have been a significant number of posts to our Facebook page and other pages over the last couple of days about the removal of the trees at Firgrove Parade, Farnborough, as part of the redevelopment of the site by the landowner, Bride Hall.

There are too many comments for us to be able to respond individually but we do recognise that emotions are running high and that there are strong feelings about the loss of the trees.

We have also seen a number of inaccurate claims and allegations made about the council and individual members of staff relating to Firgrove Parade and we understand that some of these are a result of those strong feelings.

We have previously published statements setting out our position on both Firgrove Parade and its trees, but we would like to respond to the latest comments with further clarification.

Sale of Firgrove Parade

The council identified Firgrove Parade as a potential redevelopment site in the 1980s, providing a key gateway into the town centre.

We sold the site in 1987 to Bride Hall for £600,000 plus an obligation on the landowner to pay further sums on any future redevelopment of the land.

A restrictive covenant was put in place to secure payment of these further sums on any future development.

The covenant was not intended to prevent redevelopment or protect green space.

Revised financial arrangements

Given that 25 years have since passed, the council renegotiated the financial arrangements with the landowner earlier this year.

Under the new arrangements, the council – and therefore the people of the borough – will receive 25% of any increase in value of the Firgrove Parade site following redevelopment.

As part of that arrangement, the council will also receive a nominal £1,000 payment ‘up front’.

This £1,000 has caused some confusion. To be clear, the council did not sell the land for £1,000 nor did we release the existing covenant for £1,000.

As we’ve said previously, we sold the land for £600,000 (plus the arrangements to receive further sums) in 1987. We agreed to replace the existing covenant with a new restriction to secure the revised financial arrangements, with a nominal £1,000 ‘up front’.

We took independent valuation advice on these revised financial arrangements and the Cabinet agreed that they would only be put in place if planning consent was obtained.

Our position on the redevelopment of Firgrove Parade and our planning policies

As we’ve already said, we identified Firgrove Parade as a potential redevelopment site in the 1980 and our position since then has been consistent and reflected in our planning policies for Farnborough town centre.

Most recently, we identified Firgrove Parade for potential redevelopment in the town centre masterplan that we published last year following a month of public consultation, to which nearly 300 people responded.

When we develop planning policies for the borough, we look at how they will best serve our whole population of 94,400. These policies generally cover the long-term development of the borough and are agreed by the council following public consultation. We understand that there may be a difference between what is best for the wider population and for individuals and in making decisions on these policies, our councillors aim to strike the right balance.

Firgrove Parade planning application

It can sometimes be difficult for those not closely involved in the council to understand that we have a number of different roles and take decisions in different capacities. The Cabinet’s decision to agree revised financial arrangements was taken entirely separately from the Development Control Committee’s decision to grant planning consent for Firgrove Parade.

In considering any planning application, the key question is whether the proposed development is in accordance with our development plan. In the case of Firgrove Parade, Bride Hall’s application met fully with our planning policies for the town centre, as we had previously identified and agreed the site as suitable for redevelopment. The council would not have had the right to refuse planning consent for a hotel simply because there is another one close by.

There have been a number of queries about the report provided on the trees at Firgrove Parade. It is entirely proper for the person applying for planning permission to commission an arboricultural report for consideration by the council as part of their planning application. This was the case for Firgrove Parade and the report was made publicly available as part of the consultation on the planning application.

Comments and allegations against the council, its staff and councillors

There have been a number of comments and allegations made about the council, its staff and councillors relating to Firgrove Parade. Again, we understand that feelings are high, but these comments are very public and it is not easy for individuals, in particular, to defend themselves. We believe the council, its staff and councillors have acted entirely properly.

Two press releases from the Council in less than than two weeks trying to justify what they are doing. They must be getting desperate.

One word could summarise this latest press release: bullshit.

We are used to seeing the local community treated with arrogant contempt. Now they are treating local people as fools.

The latest press release is a mix of lies, half truths, misinformation and smears.

Gateway into the town. Er no, this is a back service road, part of which does not even have a footpath. But at least a green, covered with trees and crossed by footpaths, looks far more attractive than an ugly 80-bedroom Premier Inn hotel.

The impression is given the Council negotiated a better deal with the developer. Simply not true. In an exchange of e-mails, the developer Bride Hall demanded of the Council that the restrictive covenant be quashed as it would stop their development taking place. In October 2012, Cabinet met and a secret report stated the restrictive covenant was to quashed because it was ‘onerous’ for the developer. A grubby little backroom deal was stitched up behind closed doors. But we are asked to believe that this was to get a better deal for the Council. Erm, a developer goes to the Council and asks them to quash a restrictive covenant, because it stops their development taking place, as they would not like to go ahead because they are not paying the council enough money. Similarly it is ‘onerous’ to them not to be paying the Council more money. This from a developer registered overseas to avoid tax.

The secret report to Cabinet by the then-Borough Solicitor Karen Limmer could not be less unambiguous:

Authority is sought … to replace the existing land covenant with a new covenant

The present covenant dates from 1987 and restricts development on part of the site. The covenant is considered to be onerous and effectively prevents redevelopment and regeneration taking place …

THe existing covenant to be replaced with a fresh covenant to enable Bride Hall’s develpment to proceed ….

Bride Hall will pay the Council £1000 ….

The existing land covenant to be replaced by a new covenant …

This simply gives to the developer what Bride Hall had been demanding of the Council the year before, namely that the existing covenant be quashed as otherwise their development cannot take place. Nowhere in this report does it say it is the Council quashing the covenant to get a better deal. The report could not be clearer, the covenant is to be quashed because ‘onerous’ for the developer. The report also makes clear, the original covenant ‘restricts development on part of the site’. The report dismisses planning consent as a formality.

The decision by Cabinet was to prejudge the planning decision.

A legal agreement is drawn up, the council gets an upfront payment of £1000. This on a development deal where the Council tell us they will get 25% of the development deal on a multimillion pound development. Pull the other one.

The legal agreement will not be worth the paper it is written on. Any half arse lawyer is going to walk all over this two-bit council.

Let us see this legal agreement. Publish it. Let us see this marvellous deal negotiated on behalf of the local community, a deal the local community were not party to and has not agreed should take place.

The Council decided what is best for the wider population. Having a laugh are we? Since when has this council acted for the local community, done anything that is in the best interest of the local community?

It is not for the Council to decide what is best for the town, in reality developers out to make a fast buck, it is for the local community. People have had enough of seeing St Modwen, and now Bride Hall, trash the town.

It is laughable when the leader of the council describes laying a few paving slabs as exciting news.

There may have been consultation, consultation few knew about. Nearly 300 people may have responded. Were those comments taken on board, were polices changed?

Local people have made it very very clear, they do not wish to see the green destroyed, do not want to see trees felled, do not wish to see local businesses destroyed. But no one is listening.

Yes, developers do submit their own assessment of trees. But what is not acceptable, is for that to form the basis of discussion at a planning committee, for the committee to be left to labour under the false impression they are discussing a council report, for planners to blatantly lie to the committee and say healthy trees are in a poor state of health. Officials did not correct councillors when they though they were discussing a report from their own tree officer. The tree report crucial as it was, was not included in the Agenda.

Planning officials blatantly lied when they said trees were in a poor state of health. That no doubt is why they were so keen to see the trees destroyed. Get rid if the evidence.

If the Council feels its staff have acted properly, then let us have an independent inquiry into head of planning Keith Holland, case officer Sarita Jones, and tree officer Ian May.

In the light of all what has happened, local people have remained remarkably cool. Even a senior police officer present last week when the trees were destroyed, thanked those present for remaining peaceful.

I have seen people seething with anger over the trees being cut down on Firgrove Green, on seeing a public footpath crossing the green unlawfully blocked, on local businesses threatened with destruction. I have yet to see anyone loose their temper. Under the circumstances, it is remarkable people have kept their cool.

It is not only Farnborough. Across the country, people are saying enough is enough, they have had enough of corrupt councils in bed with developers and Big Business trashing their towns and countryside. People of Britain are concluding, like a hobbit in The Lord of the Rings ‘If we all got angry together, something might be done.’

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One Response to “Firgrove Parade – Rushmoor Borough Council’s position”

  1. peterbarnett7 Says:

    Reblogged this on Green Exchange.

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