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Waverley Borough Council Committee System - Committee Document

Meeting of the Executive held on 18/09/2001
Monitoring Officer - Final Report - Brightwell House, Farnham



Monitoring Officer
Final Report


This report contains the findings of the Monitoring Officer in respect of referral regarding

Brightwell House, Farnham



September 2001
Prepared by Mrs A Bott,
Monitoring Officer

MONITORING OFFICER REFERRAL


a. Referral details

1. A monitor referral has been received from Councillor Mrs King Hele.

2. The referral states that ‘’the Executive decision to delist Brightwell House, Farnham should ‘stand’ as a recommendation to Council because it represents a change in Waverley’s Policy on conservation and listing of buildings of historic significance.’’

3. As a general point, the Monitoring Officer’s powers under the Modernising Agenda are to assess if a decision is outside the Council’s policy framework. The definitions in the government guidance of this policy framework are quite narrow, and the intention is that the Executive should have wide powers to take decisions to implement Council Policy.

4. Council Policies will invariably be, by their very nature, quite wide in their terms. To require a reference to Council on an issue that does not in itself contravene the main thrust of the Policy or infringe anyone’s rights would be very time consuming and involve the Council in time consuming bureaucracy - the move by Government is away from this. A balance must be achieved between streamlining and providing an efficient decision- making process and the need to be open and accountable.


b. Background

1. At its meeting on 24th July 2001, the Executive Committee considered and agreed that the draft development brief for East Street should be accepted. It further agreed that the ‘necessary arrangements’ be put in hand to submit a proposal to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport that the building be removed from the Statutory List of buildings of special architectural or historical interest.

2. In reaching its decision the Executive Committee had received a full report from the East Street Special Interest Group which advised that in order to deliver a development package in as flexible form as possible it would be advisable to submit a proposal to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport for the removal of Brightwell House status as a Grade II listed building. Independent advice has been received to this effect. Similarly it was made clear to the Executive Committee that this was not a decision to ‘demolish’ Brightwell House, but to widen the options for potential developers which would in turn secure as wide as possible interest from a number of developers, and that this would consequently increase the overall benefit to the Community and maximise the return to the Council.

3. In line with laid down procedures under the Pilot scheme, the Overview and Scrutiny Committee called-in the decision of the Executive Committee re the proposal. It was fully considered by Overview and Scrutiny Committee on 6th August 2001 where the Committee resolved to support the proposal to apply to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport that Brightwell House be removed from the Statutory List, but reinforced the point that any developer should recognise the significance of Brightwell House when submitting proposals.

4. The power of the Executive Committee to make the decision as set out in paragraph B1 above was not raised as an issue by the Overview and Scrutiny Committee.




c. Issues

1. Is there a general Council or Planning Policy relating to listed buildings in Waverley ownership?

2. Is there a Council/Planning Policy specifically relating to Brightwells House, Farnham?

3. If yes, does it preclude the Executive Committee taking landlord decisions to make an application to remove Brightwell House from the Statutory List of buildings of special architectural or historical interest.


d. Findings

1. The first key question to be addressed is whether or not there is a general Council or Planning Policy on listed building in Waverley ownership?

2. The Local Plan includes a policy (HE1) which makes it clear that the Council’s policy is to protect listed buildings unless there are exceptional circumstances. The policy is neutral in its effect on the decision by the Executive since that decision relates to the separate and equally significant issue of whether Brightwell House merits its place in the Statutory List.

3. The second key question is whether there is any Council Policy or other Planning Policy specifically relating to Brightwells House, Farnham?

4. More specifically, in relation to East Street and Brightwell House, there is in place a Council Policy to pursue the development by means of a development brief. This development brief was considered by the Executive Committee on 24th July 2001 as part of their property function. The development brief has regard to planning matters. It refers to a ‘presumption in favour of retaining Brightwell House’. This is consistent with the Planning brief (agreed at Council in February 2000) which states that Brightwell House should be retained and provides a presumption in favour of retaining listed buildings in the redevelopment. Any change to this would be a ‘change of policy’ whether or not Brightwell House is listed and would therefore have to be referred to Council.

5. Independent advice from experts, renowned in the field of property development, has been received which is quite emphatic about the need for prospective developers to be in a position to be flexible within their proposals. The advice is that there should be an application to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to delist Brightwell House to allow developers this flexibility. This is well set out in the Reports to the Executive Committee and the Overview and Scrutiny Committee.

6. It is clear that whether or not Brightwell House is listed has a fundamental bearing on which policies of the Council are relevant to the development proposals. The degree of flexibility available for those making development proposals is substantially affected by whether Brightwell House is listed. In these circumstances to ignore the advice which has been given and not to seek the views of the Secretary of State at this early stage would continue uncertainty on this significant issue which would be contrary to the interests of the community and the Council. It is for that reason that I conclude the issue of Brightwell House and its inclusion in the Statutory List should be addressed



7. The third key question is, therefore, whether or not it is within the Executive Committee’s powers to take a decision to submit an application to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in line with paragraph B1, or should the decision stand as a recommendation to Council because it represents a change in Waverley’s policy.

8. The Executive Committee has delegated powers to ‘control and manage all land or property, and to manage the disposal process to enable maximum benefit to the authority as a whole’. Any decisions need to be taken in line with the Council’s Asset Management Plan agreed as Council Policy in July 2001.

9. In making its decision to apply to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to delist Brightwell House as a Grade II listed building I am of the view that the Executive Committee, in its landlord role, has the authority to make this decision without reference to Full Council. This is quite consistent with the Asset Management Plan, in particular paragraph 1 (b)(c) and (e) (see attached).

10. This action in itself does not contravene any Council Policy, discussed in paragraph 4. In particular, the Council Policy specifically relates to the retention of Brightwell House and a presumption of retaining listed buildings in the redeveloment. This Policy can be altered by Council, and only Council. However, Council will need to know, in making such a decision, as to whether it has the choice. I see no merit in going to Council twice, once to get consent to make the application and then again, when the decision is known, to debate the future of Brightwell House. This would run contrary to the whole thrust of the Modernising Agenda which is to streamline the decision making process. Council will be best placed to make a decision if it has all the facts before it. There does not seem to be any merit in spending time and resources on debating the future of Brightwell House in Council if in fact the Department for Culture, Media and Sport refuses the application.

11. Accordingly, given its landlord role, I feel it is right and proper for the Executive Committee to see whether or not there is any flexibility re Brightwell House, and then to refer the matter to Full Council for a decision on the future of Brightwell House, which will be part of any final development proposals.

12. I am satisfied that the decision that has been made is within the remit of the Executive Committee.

13. I would, however, take the opportunity in this report to reinforce, in the specific case of the East Street development, the need to be open and accountable in all aspects of the development as it progresses.

14. In arriving at my conclusions I have also had regard to the intentions behind the Modernising Agenda. I have addressed whether anyone would be prejudiced by the decision and if any one person were prevented from having the opportunity to make a case one way or the other in relation to the future of Brightwell House.

15. I am satisfied that there will be a number of opportunities for a further debate on Brightwell House over the future months, and that key decisions on East Street and Brightwell House, particularly in relation to the development proposals, will be Part 1 Items for Full Council.


_______________________

Monitoring Officer, 7th September 2001