Getting a better scheme for Winchester – my speech last week on Silver Hill

Last week’s full council meeting about Silver Hill is on the front page of the Hampshire Chronicle today.  Here’s what I said in the meeting (give or take a few words here and there):

Madam Mayor

Too much of our discussion this evening has been obsessed about procurement law, process, risk and profit.

Forgive me, but I think what we need to be obsessed about is getting a better scheme for Winchester – better than the one we have today

There has been definite progress vs. the 2014 scheme.  We have a bus station.  We have affordable housing – two things that the Liberal Democrats and many others have pushed for.

At the current time, no-one has proposed – and no outside advisor has identified – a robust plan that outlines a timely plan for development of the site – and guarantees features such as a bus station and social housing – in the event that the Development Agreement is terminated.

I agree that this is urgently needed – it’s something I’ve asked for at Overview and Scrutiny – and it would be irresponsible to take a decision without having this clarity.

We have at least 6 options:

  • Continue as we are
  • Continue as we are and seek and achieve improvements
  • Some want to retender the current contract.
  • Some want to start the current process again from scratch.
  • Some want to start again with a new Masterplanning approach
  • Some want to allow piecemeal development

These are 6 different options. Each option has different impacts on cost, on timing, on the council’s finances and on whether we are able to achieve important public benefits such as a bus station and social housing.

We have no clarity on any of these options – and it would be wrong to terminate without that clarity

While people rightly have concerns about the design, the design and the development agreement are not the same thing… And if they were, then retendering the contract would mean that we ended up with the same problem.

The Development Agreement does not specify the detailed design of the site – and many of the features that residents are rightly concerned about – that we in the Liberal Democrats are concerned about – that I am concerned about – such as:

  • the height of the development,
  • the quality of the buildings fronting onto the street, especially in Friarsgate,
  • the layout of the street plan –

are not specified in the Development Agreement.

It also includes elements that are not in the development agreement such as the office space, the youth club – which has been provided by St John’s – and the RAOB club

These were covered in the Planning Permission – which did not form part of the Judicial Review – and can, in principle, be changed, amended, adjusted or resubmitted without changing the Development Agreement.

Most of the objectives of the Development Agreement – including:

  • A bus station with 12 parking bays, 3 layover bays and toilets
  • 287 units of housing – including 100 affordable units, of which 20 are social rented
  • An area for relocation of the market – including a bin store and compactor
  • A civic square
  • Maintenance of current levels of retail (>90,000 square feet)

remain desirable objectives for the site.

There is dispute about the level of parking. But there are genuine questions about what flexibility the Development Agreement gives us about parking – which unfortunately cannot be discussed in open session.

Ultimately our problem is not with the Development Agreement – it is the design of the scheme against the development agreement.

We need to see change.  We need to see improvements.  And we believe it is possible – without changing the development agreement.

But we don’t want to accept the motion unamended, because that closes off the opportunity to terminate the agreement in the event that we don’t get the changes we need.

We need to see improvements.

And if we don’t see improvements, we have to have the ability to terminate the deal with clarity about the way forward from that point.

And that is why I ask you to support Councillor Thompson’s amendment.

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