Friday, 26 July 2013

Firgrove Parade - latest position

Firgrove Parade – Rushmoor Borough Council’s position 26.07.13

There have been a significant number of posts to our Facebook page (Rushmoor Borough Council) 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.

It 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’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 aboricultural 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.

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