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Council Unexpectedly Decides To Defer North Street Development Partner Decision

Published on: 18 Apr, 2013
Updated on: 19 Apr, 2013

Deferred DecisionIn a dramatic about turn this evening (April 18th) Guildford Borough Council’s Executive decided to delay its decision on the selection of a development partner for the re-development of North Street.

An evaluation committee report had recommended the selection of developer Lend Lease, representatives of which were expected to make a presentation at this evening’s meeting. Approval was considered by some observers to be almost a formality.

Instead a “late paper” was circulated with a proposal from lead councillor for the Town Centre and Transport, Cllr James Palmer, which read: “In the light of the recent change of circumstances, in particular the impending acquisition by PRUPIM of the Friary Centre and other interests in the North Street Site, the Executive resolves to instruct officers to review further the consequences of this for for for the Council’s Developer Selection process.”

The proposal was debated briefly with several Executive members speaking in support of Cllr Palmer’s proposal. Council Leader Stephen Mansbridge summed up saying: “This decision is something that is going to affect not just one generation but a series of generations here in our town.

“I think it is absolutely crucial that we [have] a little bit of extra time to allow us to really dig down into new information and analyse it. This will allow us to make the right decision and a good decision.” The proposal was accepted unanimously.

On Monday the Guildford Vision Group (GVG) had called for the council to delay their decision and made it clear that it did not agree with the council’s assessment that Lend Lease was the best potential partners. GVG representatives briefly addressed the Executive meeting and were visibly pleased with the announcement that the council had changed its mind.

Julian Lyon addressing the GVG meeting on Monday April 15th

Julian Lyon addressing the GVG meeting on Monday April 15th

Julian Lyon, one of the leaders of the Vision Group, said: “I am pleased that you have deferred your decision tonight.

“I think, on behalf of the town and borough, you should now be able to give a clear message to PRUPIM, that you would actually like to have a joint venture but that there needs to be a clear focus for a deal perhaps looking at a land-owner partnership between PRUPIM and the council, and a development agreement with a developer.

“[This should need only] a few weeks of delay instead of several years of stalemate as Croydon has suffered. It is an opportunity to get an objective professional second opinion.

“It may not be easy to delay this decision but I am convinced it must be the right call.  I welcome it and thank the Executive Committee for its pragmatism and open-mindedness. Guildford wants and should get the best!”

After the meeting The Guildford Dragon NEWS asked Cllr Palmer if he had known that the council was to defer its selection when he addressed the GVG meeting on Monday evening. He said: “We are getting fresh information all the time. It is a changing situation by the day.

“In order to give full consideration to the factors relating to PRUPIM coming in to us we need to use a little more time. I think the point was made on Monday evening when I said that we were listening to all parties and we have been listening to PRUPIM and everyone else.”

When asked if the change was mostly because of the GVG representations or because of new information from PRUPIM he said: “It is really as a result of further information we are getting from PRUPIM and other factors as well.”

Cllr James Palmer

Cllr James Palmer

Cllr Palmer said that he was not able to say what the new information was because it was commercially sensitive and because these kind of negotiations have to be conducted privately.

He added: “We are trying to share as much information with the public as possible and once we have considered further we will come back, probably in a couple of months time.

“We have not taken this decision because of legal advice, we are always bearing legal advice in mind together with advice from all of our professional officers. I do not not want to give the impression that the decision was because of specific legal advice though. We just need to understand the implications of PRUPIM taking over more of the town centre.”

The risks of legal challenge, as occurred when GVG successfully challenged previous North Street planning documents in September last year, were acknowledged in the evaluation committee’s report and Cllr Palmer, a lawyer himself, continued. “A legal confrontation is always a risk and we want to avoid that. But the risk has not changed we just want to make sure that we have covered everything that we can and that we have given everyone a fair chance.”

Asked if he had been in communication with PRUPIM and/or GVG since Monday evening Cllr Palmer said that the council was in constant contact with both parties but there had been no meetings.

Gerald Bland, a director of GVG reacted to the council decision by saying: “I am obviously delighted that they [the council] have decided to have a dialogue with the developer and I entirely understand why they have done what they have done.

“I can only surmise that they have had discussions with PRUPIM which, coupled with GVG’s view that Lend Lease is not the firm to appoint, have persuaded them to reconsider.”

In a press release issued later this evening, council officer Chris Mansfield, Head of Economic Development, said: “It is vital that the council secures and delivers the right development for North Street to unlock its full potential for our local community and economy.

“We now need to take more time to explore and fully understand the consequences of the impending acquisition by PRUPIM of the Friary Centre. They have expressed a strong desire to engage with the council and it is only right that we conduct further analysis in order to reduce any risk in this project proceeding.”

See also: PRUPIM Wants Council To Abandon North Street Developer Selection Process

and Vision Group Calls for Delay to North Street Developer Selection

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