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Council forced to publish secret HQ move documents

How Warwick District Council's new offices could look as part of a new £50million complex on the current site of Covent Garden car park on Tavistock Street, Leamington.
How Warwick District Council's new offices could look as part of a new £50million complex on the current site of Covent Garden car park on Tavistock Street, Leamington.

SECRET reports that were used by Warwick District Council to wriggle out of its own affordable housing requirements have been published.

The documents show a combined £2.94million shortfall between the value of the pre- and post-developed site of the council's current Riverside House headquarters and the Covent Garden car park stand, to where it will relocate its offices.

The figure is what is used to determine the viability of the scheme.

And the gap, say consultants acting on behalf of the private company set up by the council and a land developer, would be wider if both sites had to include the 40 per cent of so-called affordable housing, as set out in the council's own planning policy, making it unviable to do so.

Outline applications were approved by the council's own planning committee earlier this year for 170 homes on the site of Riverside House, and 44 apartments, offices, and a new 617-space car park on the Covent Garden site.

The council's consultants, BNP Paribas Real Estate, said the residual land value - the difference between the cost of undeveloped land and its value of the same site once it is developed - was £3.37million in the case of Riverside House, but -£6.30million in the case of Covent Garden car park.

Although a second set of consultants, commissioned by the council's planning department to scrutinise those figures ahead of agreeing to waive the requirement for affordable housing, gave alternative those figures of £3.56million and -£5.12million, respectively.

Matt Western, MP for Warwick and Leamington, and a chief opposer to the lack of affordable homes, said this week: "The council has hidden behind the viability assessment for many months when it could easily have released it to the public.

"Now, it is quite clear from an independent assessment of the council’s viability assessment that the Riverside House site would be viable to include affordable and social housing if taken in isolation, but the council’s decision to move to new offices means that there is no scope to build affordable housing as part of this joint project."

The council has previously claimed that the move would be cost neutral, excluding the rebuilding of Covent Garden car park, which will cost taxpayers £9million.

Mr Western added: "These documents confirm what I’ve been arguing all along, they have sacrificed the affordable housing that could be provided at the Riverside House site for their own ambitions to have a shiny, new office rather than provide for those homeless people who are ‘sofa surfing’ and in desperate need of social housing and for rough sleepers.

"This is a council that has completely the wrong priorities and is badly letting down our community, which is in desperate need of truly affordable homes.”

Mr Western has launched a petition opposing the plans, which he says has over 3000 signatures from local residents and 'considerable support' from local businesses.

The two schemes would have delivered around 86 affordable homes for rent or shared ownership to people on the housing register under the council's policy requirement of 40 per cent of developments over 11 properties needing to be affordable.

Council leader, Cllr Andrew Mobbs, said the viability reports that were previously unpublished due to commercial reasons had now been put into the public domain following legal advice.

He added: "Releasing the documents will enable everyone to see both the case made by the applicant and the independent professional advice that was considered by the planning committee in making their decision.

"In addition, the advice now received has prompted the council to start a review of its policy of how it treats the confidentiality of financial viability reports at planning committee.”

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