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Waverley Borough Council Committee System - Committee Document

Meeting of the Executive held on 28/10/2003
Wonersh Village Stores



Summary & Purpose
This report brings members up to date on the current situation with the vacant village stores. It recommends, in view of the failure of at least two further potential purchasers to reach agreement to buy the premises, that Waverley now takes action to secure the retention of the shop and post office for the future.

The report recommends that the Executive recommends to Council:-

1. to resolve to purchase the site compulsorily under the Council’s planning powers set out in Section 226 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 with a view to enabling the village shop to be reopened and some affordable housing to be provided, in a back-to-back deal with Wonersh Village Stores Limited, if an early agreement to purchase the site cannot be reached with the owner;

2. to submit a planning application for the site with a view to providing an element of affordable housing whilst retaining the village shop and post office;

3. to authorise officers to negotiate with the current owner with a view to reaching agreement for the purchase of the premises using the District Valuer’s valuation of the site as the basis of discussions; and

4. to agree a supplementary capital/revenue estimate to fund the proposals.


Note pursuant to Section 100B95) of the Local Government Act 1972

Annexes to this report contain exempt information by virtue of which the public is likely to be excluded during the item to which the report relates, as specified in Paragraph 9 of Part I of Schedule 12A to the Local Government Act 1972, viz:-

Any terms proposed or to be proposed by or to the authority in the course of negotiations for a contract for the acquisition or disposal of property or the supply of goods or services.




Quality of life implications – social, environmental & economic (sustainable development):

Natural Resource Use
Pollution Prevention and Control
Biodiversity and Nature
Local Environment
Social Inclusion
Safe, Healthy and Active Communities
Local Economy
N/A
N/A
N/A
Positive
Positive
Positive
Positive

E-Government implications:

There are no significant e-government implications associated with this report.

Resource and legal implications:

These are addressed in the report and additional privileged advice is contained in the exempt part of the report at (Exempt) Annexe 2 and (Exempt) Annexe 5. This is an item not budgeted for and could potentially reduce the available resources for other capital schemes.



Introduction and background

1. A detailed report on the background to the closure of Wonersh Village Stores was considered by the Executive on 1st April 2003. The shop is regarded as a core facility providing necessary services to the community. Please refer to Annexe 3. The Executive agreed to:-

(a) commission an independent valuation of the property, with a view to encouraging further discussions that may result in the retention of a viable shop and post office in the village; and

(b) ask officers to continue to monitor the situation and bring back a further report, if necessary, for members to consider the options for moving towards the purchase of the property in a back to back deal with Wonersh Village Stores Ltd, or another developer, to safeguard the future of the shop.

2. Since April, at least two separate organisations have taken initial steps to purchase the property. The prospective purchases, one by a development company and the other by a national retail business, have both fallen through. The property has been advertised for auction twice by Barnard Marcus. Further offers for the property were sought through the Surrey Advertiser. A further offer was made by Wonersh Village Stores Limited. It seems that a number of parties have sought to make realistic commercial offers with the intention of retaining the shop facility.

Valuation

3. Waverley delayed seeking the independent valuation of the property whilst negotiations were in train with the development company (at their request). The Council commissioned the valuation in August. A copy of the valuation is attached at (Exempt) Annexe 2.

4. The key valuation figures have been shared with the owner and with Wonersh Village Stores Limited. It is understood that the price agreed for the site by the two recent potential purchasers is in line with the valuation by the District Valuer. However, none of the offers made have resulted in a finalised transfer of the property.

5. The site has been vacant since the shop was closed on 6th March 2003. Discussions have taken place with the owner since he first put the site on the market in 2001. No agreement has been reached with potential purchasers that has resulted in the sale of the property with the retention of the shop. There is still an outstanding offer by Wonersh Village Stores Ltd to purchase part or all of the site, but the price offered is less than the owner is prepared to accept.

Community Action

6. There is continuing real concern in the village about the lack of any village shop, which is expressed particularly by elderly residents. Complaints have also been made about the appearance of the empty shop and site. Policy S2 (Local and Village Shops) of the Waverley Borough Local Plan (adopted 23rd April 2002) states (inter alia):-

The local authority will seek to retain local and village shops and promote areas which service the shopping needs of the local community.

7. Wonersh Parish Council and the local community have taken a keen interest in safeguarding the shop and post office. When the shop was first advertised for sale in 2001, the community expressed a strong desire to retain this successful and important asset. Wonersh Village Stores Ltd was created and the community raised/loaned 150,000 to purchase the shop element of the site. Later, when the owner said that he did not wish to split the site after all, Wonersh Village Stores Ltd raised a further 325,000 in loans from the community.

Retaining the Post Office

8. The owner of the site closed the post office and lottery terminal in June 2002. This was against the wishes of the Post Office who had found a temporary sub-postmaster to run the post office whilst discussions for the sale of the shop as a going concern were continuing. The Post Office has a requirement to maintain the rural network of post offices wherever possible. They have worked with the Parish Council, the Village Shops adviser at Surrey Community Action and Waverley to identify other potential sites for a post office in the village. No clear/straightforward sites have emerged. In such circumstances, the Post Office would normally announce a permanent closure of a post office twelve months after the closure takes effect. However, given the significant efforts by the community and councils to try to reopen a shop and post office in Wonersh, they agreed to delay their closure announcement following a further review at the end of 2003.

Legal Implications

9. In its role of active community leadership, the Council may act to sustain such facilities (particularly when such services or facilities are the last such facilities in the community) through its power, conferred by the Local Government Act 2000, to sustain the economic social and environmental well-being of the area. Use of the power of well-being may be considered having regard to the Community Strategy. There are limitations on the use of the power, and in particular it cannot be used

where there is an existing prohibition on the use of the power. The power cannot be used as a means to raise money, nor if the Secretary of State has expressly prohibited the activity. The Council has a community leadership role to ensure that services can be safeguarded wherever possible.

10. The Town and Country Planning Act 1990 gives power to purchase by compulsion land in its area which is required for the purposes of development or which is required for a purpose which is necessary to achieve for the proper planning of the area. Local Plan Policy S2 (Local and Village Shops) set out in paragraph 6 above also says:-

In considering applications for redevelopment for other uses or for a change of use of local or village shops the council will have regard to the importance of the retail use to the local community. Redevelopment for other uses or a change of use from a shop (Class A1) will only be permitted where:-

(a) all reasonable efforts have been made in marketing to let or sell the premises as a shop;

(b) the proposed non retail use will not prejudice the character or appearance of the area; and

(c) any new traffic generated, parking and access can be satisfactorily accommodated.

Proposals for expansion of existing shops or for new retail development within local village centres will be supported provided they are appropriate to the scale, character and function of the centre.”. Plan policies in a Borough such as Waverley are more usually considered as a measure of whether development proposals are acceptable. Nonetheless, for these purposes, the Council may wish to take positive action in support of retaining the shop for reasons of both community strategic leadership and best practice for the council as local planning authority.

11. There is support for positive action, in that in similar circumstances, the loss of such a facility has been regarded as detrimental to a village community. A recent Planning Inspector’s decision, published in October 2003, (APP/H2733/A/03/1112909) has some interesting parallels to the Wonersh situation. The appeal was against the refusal by Scarborough Council to allow the conversion of the former shop and post office in Gristhorpe to residential accommodation. This shop (the only premises classified for retail use in the village) was in the heart of the village and the nearest alternative shops were 1.5km and 3km away. The Inspector refers to national Planning Policy Guidance (PPG7) that seeks to promote sustainable development through improving the viability of existing villages, reducing the need for increased car commuting, and reversing the general decline in rural services.

12. In dismissing the appeal, the Inspector commented that the loss of such a facility would result in a reduction in community based activity and services in the village centre, be detrimental to the vitality and sustainability of the settlement and be contrary to national planning policy.


13. Waverley planning officers have provided similar advice to a series of potential applicants, and planning permission has been granted for a proposal (WA01/2419) which sought to permit a change of use of the former post office part of the site to residential accommodation once the retail use had been replaced at the rear of the property. Subsequent enquirers have been advised of the planning policies pertaining to the site and that the loss of retail space could not be supported by officers.

Moving forward

14. It now appears that the options that may have secured the continuation of the shop and post office on the site have been exhausted. There is also need for a significant development to emerge if the Post Office is to be persuaded not to serve a permanent closure notice. It appears that the most favourable method for the Council to actively facilitate the desired solution is to use the compulsory purchase action in support of its planning function. If such powers are to be used, they would be used to secure a development of the site to adapt the building to create a new shop and post office and two separate housing units. At least one of these would be to help with the identified affordable housing need in the village.

15. The situation that has arisen necessitates some speed to secure the Post Office provision. Negotiations with the owner may be protracted to an extent that would frustrate the efforts of the Post Office management to co-operate in retaining the facility. Officers are recommending that the Council makes a series of interlinked decisions at this stage and that the Compulsory Purchase Order will only be made if it is clear that an early agreement (e.g. by December 2003) to purchase the site is unachievable. The purpose of these decisions is to ensure that an important community asset that is vital to the essential well-being of the community is retained. They will also assist in the provision of affordable housing in a village to help meet defined affordable housing needs from recent surveys in the village. Waverley will be demonstrating its community leadership role for the economic, social and environmental well-being of the area in response to specific expressed community needs.
Members are asked to refer to (Exempt) Annexe 1 for paragraphs 16, 17,18.

Purposes of the recommendations

19. The purposes of the recommendations are set out below:-

(i) It is recommended that the Executive determines to take the first resolution to use its CPO powers, as set out in Section 226 of the 1990 Town and Country Planning Act, to purchase the site marked at Annexe 4. If compulsory purchase by the Council can be avoided because the owner agrees a value for purchase which accords with the District Valuer’s opinion, then the procedures would not be pursued to completion as they were clearly unnecessary. An update of progress would be submitted to the next Executive meeting on 2nd December.

(ii) It is recommended that the Council takes a decision to submit a planning application to redevelop the vacant site. This will give an opportunity to consider actively what development would be favoured to retain the shop and meet some of the identified housing need in the village. A plan outlining the area of the site is attached at Annexe 4, with the boundary of the site clearly

outlined with a thick border. The purpose of the application would be to achieve the objectives of planning application WA01/2419 by seeking a change of use of the post office element of the site from post office to residential once the floor space had been replaced at the rear of the existing shop. In addition, the proposal entails separating the floor space on the first floor of the property to create two separate housing units, one a flat above the shop, the other a separate house attached to the shop and flat.

(iii) It is recommended that the Council negotiates with the owner to purchase the site on the best terms that can be agreed in line with the District Valuer’s assessment of the value of the site. The Council may conduct these negotiations itself or ask another body to act on its behalf.

(iv) It is recommended that Council officers enter into detailed negotiations with Wonersh Village Stores Limited and other partners, such as the Rural Housing Trust or a Registered Social Landlord, to seek such guarantees and agreements as may minimise the risks to the council if a purchase through negotiation or compulsion is achieved. These negotiations will include the nature of the back-to-back deal that will be agreed if the Council follows the CPO procedure. They will also cover the options the Council may follow if a negotiated agreement is reached. The options that will form the basis of these discussions are set out at (Exempt) Annexe 5.

Human Rights Implications

20. Where compulsory purchase is being considered, the impact on human rights must be taken into account. The human rights of individuals in the community who wish to retain the facility are not of a character that justifies particular attention to harm or benefit for specific individuals. Specific consideration must be given to the impact of the proposed decisions on the current owners of the property.

21. The particular rights which may be infringed by compulsory purchase are those protected by Article 1 of the First Protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Article is generally regarded as being three rules in one:-

(a) Every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions.

(b) No-one shall be deprived of his possessions except in the public interest and subject to the conditions provided for by law and by the general principles of international law.

(c) The above rules shall not impair the right of the state to enforce such laws as it deems necessary in accordance with the general interest (or to secure payment of taxes etc).

22. It is necessary to approach a decision on the appropriate action in this case by first having regard to (b) and (c) above. The European Court of Human Rights has determined (Sporrong and Lonnroth V Sweden) that it is necessary to consider “whether a fair balance has been struck between the demands of the general interests of the community and the requirements of the protection of the individual’s fundamental rights.


23. In the same case, the Court gave its view that there may be a wide margin of appreciation in relation to matters of planning policy. In seeking to achieve the appropriate balance; and in regard to a compulsory purchase order, Circular 14/94 requires that there is a “compelling case in the public interest”. The owners’ rights of possession must be weighed against the public interest. In making the balanced decision required, members should have regard to the factors including (but not exclusively):-

The benefits of retaining the shop as a facility for the village.

The fact that Wonersh has a significantly higher percentage of over sixty-fives (20.1%) in the population than the Waverley (17.6%), Surrey (16.4%) or regional (16.3%)averages.

The advantages of creating the opportunity for developing affordable housing to meet identified needs. The Rural Housing Trust survey of Wonersh Shamley Green and Blackheath in January 2002 identified the need for eight to ten dwellings in the area. As at October 2003, there are 484 people on Waverley’s Housing Needs Register for Wonersh.

The possible consequences of losing the elements of the facility (e.g. the Post Office) in the event of further delay.

The number and type of residents most likely to be affected and whether such effects would be benign or adverse.

The detriment caused to the present owner.

Whether factors identified as adverse or benign are temporary or permanent in nature.

Whether the adverse impact on the individual owners may be mitigated by the opportunity to seek compensation.

24. In considering these issues, it is necessary that members satisfy themselves that action for the general interests of those living in Wonersh and or using the village stores will not have a disproportionate detrimental effect on the interests of the current owners.

Community Safety Implications

25. If the heart of a village can be kept vibrant through the retention of such community facilities, it will reduce the fear of crime.

Resource/environmental implications

26. If the Council purchases the site through negotiation or CPO, it is expected that it will need to finance a purchase in line with the District Valuer’s valuation set out in (Exempt) Annexe 2 and (Exempt) Annexe 5 However, officers will be discussing with Wonersh Village Stores Limited and other organisations to ensure that the risk to the council is minimised.


"Opportunities for All" implications

27. This report has significant and positive implications to ensure that all the community, but particularly the most vulnerable, can continue to enjoy the facilities provided by Wonersh Village Stores and post office.

Conclusion

28. In conclusion, it is felt, after more than two years of unsuccessful discussions to secure the long term future of a village shop in Wonersh, that the Council now takes specific action to safeguard this important community asset for the future. The former village stores was trading very successfully thanks to the efforts of the current owner of the site over many years. However, the post office and stores were closed before agreement with potential purchasers who would continue the retail use could be reached. The site has been vacant since March 2003 and there appears to be no sign of any early resolution that will change this situation.

Recommendation

It is recommended that the Executive recommends to the Council the following course of action:-

1. make a compulsory purchase order (to be referred to as the “Waverley Borough Council (Wonersh Stores, Wonersh) Compulsory Purchase Order 2003”) to acquire the land and premises at Wonersh Stores, Wonersh more particularly identified at the map shown at Annexe 4 pursuant to Section 226 (1) (b) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 for the purposes of:-

ensuring that the use of land is in accordance with national and local policies for the protection of interests of acknowledged importance;

retaining an important community facility;

providing affordable housing to meet identified needs;

which said purposes it is necessary to achieve in the interests of the proper planning of the area;

2. the Solicitor to the Council shall ensure that the Order is executed on behalf of the Council, and shall be authorised to sign any necessary Certificates, notices or other documents required for making the Compulsory purchase order or for making the order effective for the purposes set out in recommendation 1 above, and upon confirmation of the order, the signing of any Notice to Treat, Notice of Entry or General Vesting Declaration;

3. the Director of Planning and Development be authorised to submit the order for confirmation to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (and if any objections received, making arrangements for a public inquiry including the appointment of Counsel);

4. the Property and Development Manager, in consultation with the Solicitor to the Council and the Director of Finance, to conduct such negotiations as are necessary relating to appropriate agreement for acquisition of the land or

compensation relating to the proposed compulsory purchase order in accordance with (so far as is reasonable at the time) the valuation advised by the District Valuer;

5. submit a planning application to develop the site to secure the retention of the village stores and post office and some affordable housing;

6. authorise the Property and Development Manager to conduct such negotiations with Wonersh Village Stores Limited and other potential partners as may minimise the risks to the Council when agreement to purchase the site is reached, or when the compulsory purchase order is confirmed; and

7. agree a supplementary capital estimate to fund the proposals set out in recommendations 1 to 7 above, and for the amount set out in (Exempt) Annexe 4.



Background Papers (CEx)

Planning Inspectorate Appeal Decision APP/H2733/A/03/1112909
Housing Need Survey: Wonersh, Shamley Green and Blackheath January 2002



CONTACT OFFICERS:

Name: Iain Lynch Telephone: 01483 523203
email: ilynch@waverley.gov.uk

Name: Peter Hartley Telephone: 01483 523203
email: phartley@waverley.gov.uk

comms/executive/2003-04/330
38752