December 10 2013 Latest news:
By MARK BOGGIS
Friday, October 4, 2013
The leader of Waveney District Council this week defended its decision to buy a former factory site in Lowestoft – after admitting he was unaware that a £2.3m offer from a private investor was already on the table.
The council announced in August that it had agreed a preliminary deal to purchase the old Sanyo site in School Road and that it planned to build up to 350 homes on the land as part of its Area Action Plan (AAP).
The decision to back the move was taken by councillors at a confidential council meeting that month.
But it later emerged that businessman Peter Colby also wanted to buy the land with a view to setting up industrial units and creating hundreds of jobs – and that he had met Waveney officers to discuss his proposal.
Speaking at a full council meeting on Monday, Colin Law admitted that he had not been informed by officers that a firm bid for the site had already been made to Sanyo by Mr Colby.
Therefore, he and fellow councillors at the August meeting agreed to approve the council’s proposed purchase of the 19.75-acre site without knowing about Mr Colby’s plans, which also included some housing.
This led to the council agreeing to buy the site for an undisclosed fee – which is believed to be £2.425m – using funds from its housing revenue account.
At Monday’s meeting, in response to a question from Labour’s Peter Byatt, Mr Law told members that talks to buy the site had begun after “Sanyo approached the council inviting discussion”, but the deal had not yet been completed.
Mr Byatt then asked Mr Law if he was aware that Mr Colby had already made a firm offer to Sanyo for the factory site when the council opened its own negotiations with the company.
Mr Law said: “I can confirm that that was not the case.”
Mr Byatt responded: “We do know that this is a contentious issue. I would ask councillor Law to re-look at this situation.”
Mr Law said: “As far as I’m concerned the deal was done in a professional manner... I don’t see any reason to review it.”
After Monday’s meeting, Mr Law told said he was “content” with how senior officers had handled negotiations.
But Mr Colby vowed to continue “to fight” for what he believes is the good of Lowestoft.
He said: “I believe these buildings need to be created for jobs – I am going to fight for it. They are going to knock the buildings at Sanyo down and this is atrocious. It’s uneconomic to develop this land for housing – it will be left derelict for 10 to 15 years.”
Mr Colby’s company, Peter Colby Commercials Ltd, proposed “the delivery of a refreshed employment site” on the former Sanyo land, which would be “capable of providing up to 400 jobs and the creation of workable development sites for housing”.
But Mr Law said the council’s deal would be “good for Waveney”.
Mr Law said: “The decision to purchase the Sanyo site was taken because of recent changes to housing law which made it possible for the council to make this investment.
“These changes came in to force some time after the Sanyo site first became available and the decision to proceed was subsequently hastened by contact from Sanyo themselves, who expressed their desire for us to buy the land.
“The money that is being spent to complete this purchase is not public money in the sense that it could be spent on any other services. It is money generated by and for our housing service and which can only, by law, be spent on housing.”
He added: “As the leader of the council, I was not aware of the specific interest of other parties when the decision to proceed was taken. Regardless of any interest from elsewhere, I am content that the absolute priority of the council was to establish whether such a purchase would be good for the council and, most importantly of all, good for Waveney.”
With the land earmarked for 350 new homes as part of the AAP, Mr Law said: “This, along with supplementary planning documents, was previously agreed by the council and this purchase is a reflection of the council’s commitment to this important initiative. Senior officers with huge professional experience in this area considered this at great length, and with great diligence, and agreed that this purchase would fulfil the priority need for housing in the town, and the catalyst for growth it would provide.”
Mr Law said the council aimed to complete the deal soon, and that it had already been approached by “one of the country’s leading building and construction companies”, with a view to discussing its plans for the site.
Last night, the leader of Waveney’s opposition Labour group, Tod Sullivan, said: “I think that I would expect the leader of the council to want to know about any and all potentially significant investment in the area.
“I would hope that, as leader, I would have made clear to all departments that large schemes, actual or potential, are of interest to me and that I would like to engage directly with people who may be planning them so that I can work with them to either expedite their scheme or, if it is not right for the area, seek an alternative way to retain their investment in Waveney.”
WHAT DO YOU THINK