At last Thursday’s (12th April) extraordinary Hythe Town Council meeting at Hythe Town Council, agenda item 4 was to discuss Planning Application Y17/1042/SH – Development of Land at Princes Parade.
The outcome of the meeting was Hythe Town Cllrs voting to seek access to view the Financial Viability Assessment (FVA) for Princes Parade, from Folkestone & Hythe District Council (FHDC), the planning applicant. However, one of the really interesting things to come from the meeting is that FHDC Cabinet member for Housing, Cllr Alan Ewart James; who is also a Hythe Town Cllr, supported the motion to release confidential information. Quite remarkable when you think as a Cabinet Member he already has privilege to see the FVA. The other interesting thing is that if the Princes Parade FVA is released it could be for Cllrs eyes only, but more of that later.
So what are Financial Viability Assessments and why do they cause so much hoha .
In short a Financial Viability assessment is a process of assessing whether a site is financially viable, by looking at whether the value generated by a development is more than the cost of developing it.
A growing number of developers have and continue to plead viability poverty. FVA’s have always been matters of “Commercial Interests” or confidentiality of commercial or industrial information where such confidentiality is provided by law to protect a legitimate economic interest, so not many full FVA’s have been seen. However FVA’s have seen the light via FoI’s or its Environmental Sister EIR’S“ (page 6). This loophole, this viability loophole” is a major problem, both politically and practically. On the practical side they will become standardised for the first time. A good thing.
Research by Shelter in 2017 estimated that as a result of re-negotiation of affordable housing quotas on the grounds of viability, nine cities had lost out on 2,500 affordable homes in one year. CPRE recently reported on the same problem arising in rural areas. On the other side of the argument, there is a need to allow for planning obligations and contributions to be adjusted to take into account changed economic circumstances, otherwise much needed housing schemes will not be built.
The draft revised NPPF out to consultation has led to a unified voice calling for the approach to FVA’s be reformed, and encouragingly there has been very significant support for greater transparency.
So changes are afoot with regards to transparency and making FVA’s publicly available, instead of hidden behind commercial interests and confidentiality.
The new approach in the Draft revised NPPF supports transparency in the viability assessment process so that it is clear what policy requirements will inform planning decisions including the contributions that will be expected from developers. It will support accountability for communities by enabling them to understand the outcomes of viability assessment and see what infrastructure and affordable housing has been delivered through developer contributions.
At Para 29 of the Draft Revised NPPF it states:
At Para 58 it states:
Now as the Draft Revised NPPF is just that, a draft out to consultation – open to the public to comment – would Folkestone & Hythe District Council consider and implement the spirit of the draft revised version and make the FVA for Princes Parade publicly available and NOT just for Cllrs eyes only?
In case you’ve never seen an FVA before, here is Ingles Meadow FVA (Old Wyevale Garden Centre Jointon Rd Folkestone) owned by the Right Honourable William Ninth Earl of Radnor, The Honourable Peter John Pleydell -Bouverie, Susan Anne Laing and Helen Clark. According to Land registry title deed K325444 it states at Para 7:
(04.12.2014) By a Deed dated 2 December 2014 made between (1) The Right Honourable William Ninth Earl of Radnor and others and (2) Murston Construction Limited the grant and reservation of easements in the Transfer dated 30 August 2013 referred to above was varied as therein mentioned.
Murston Construction Ltd is the applicant for the site. So is the 9th Earl of Radnor pleading poverty via the developer/applicant? Now do remember the Ninth Earl owns or has a mortgage on property in Chancery Lane London, the home of the legal world. The FVA was obtained via an EIR Request by our public face.
If an Earl via his Developer is pleading poverty, times must truly be tough for the rich. When the Earl via his developer/applicant cannot supply, on site affordable housing and throws a mere £188,000 to “off site affordable”; which would build how many houses? Is one supposed to know ones place and say nothing? Dissent is not a crime and we refuse to personally believe the Honourable Gentleman and the applicant and their pleadings of poverty, in the FVA.
Any we digressed but are back on track. We believe that FHDC’s position is partisan with regards to Princes Parade, as it is both Planning Authority and Developer so a chimera – two heads yet one body. The council cannot contend that the release of the FVA would add little, if anything, to the ability of
the public to evaluate whether value for money will be achieved for the ratepayers. Cllr Wendy (backbone) Peacock in her passionate speech; which resonated so well with many of those in the public gallery and her fellow Cllrs, called for the FVA to be released to Cllrs and the public. However, the fall back position is just for Cllrs eyes only. If this is what transpires – that only Cllrs get to see the FVA – FHDC may bind them with a confidentiality agreement. This would mean a Cllr privy to the FVA must not disclose information given to them in confidence nor disclose information acquired which they believe is of a confidential nature, unless they:
a) have received the consent of a person authorised to give it
b) are required by law to do so.
Cllrs would be breaking the law if they disclose ANY part of the FVA or the whole of the document, if FHDC ask them to agree to confidentiality. However, we believe that the Public Interest Test may be a plausible and sensible reason to leak it to us in strictest confidence, of course.
So what exactly did the extraordinary meeting of Hythe Town Council on Thursday 12th April, councillors resolve. Well it resolved as follows:
363/17 PLANNING APPLICATION Y17/1042/SH – DEVELOPMENT OF LAND AT PRINCES PARADE
HTC Members considered the previously circulated planning application, together with the email from the Head of Planning at Folkestone & Hythe District Council which referenced technical appendices that responded to issues raised directly in the consultation.
PROPOSED BY: Councillor Mrs W Peacock
SECONDED BY: Councillor J Gabris
And here is the motion in full.
That until a full financial disclosure of the viability and cost appraisal report is received – even if it is confidential to members – from Folkestone & Hythe District Council, Hythe Town Council reserves its right to rescind its previous decision of support.
Cllrs who voted to support the above motion were Cllr Ashley Tanton, Cllr Laura Sullivan, Cllr Alan Ewart-James, Cllr Reg Belcourt, Cllr Paul O’Connor, Cllr Wendy (Backbone) Peacock, Cllr Johm Gabris, Cllr & Mayor Paul Peacock, Cllr A Mayne, Cllr D Shipton. The two abstentions were Cllr David Owen and Cllr S Moberly.
It is of critical importance that FHDC obtain for its taxpayers the best deal that can properly be achieved regarding Princes Parade. Getting value for money is an unchanging demand of the active electorate. In a non-forensic sense, you the council’s electors are its shareholders. On this basis. we the shareholders should be allowed sight of the FVA as well as the Hythe Town Cllrs, there should be no fullback position, full disclosure of the FVA will not cause any significant harm to FHDC. The Public Interest far outweighs the need to squirrel the FVA away from public eyes. Folkestone & Hythe District Council have already released the Ingles Meadow and Folkestone Seafront Development FVA’s. So what is so special about Princes Parade FVA? Something you don’t want us to see Cllrs, Senior Officers?
If you seek an answer to that question, or any other, you can always write a polite email to:
firstname.lastname@example.org – Head of Paid Services
email@example.com – Solicitor to the Council
firstname.lastname@example.org – Leader of FHDC
Do let us know if you get ANY response at all. shepwayvox@riseup dot net
The Shepwayvox Team