Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by Basildon District Council (NT 48)

  Thank you for your letter dated 27 March 2002, regarding the above. Your letter requests supplementary memorandum in light of the announcement by the DTLR on the quinquennial review of English Partnerships, comments on which I set out below. These follow the submission made by this Council dated 11 March 2002.

  The review of English Partnerships provides an opportunity for a new relationship between English Partnerships and district councils that will meet joint aspirations. The DTLR's proposals envisage the transfer of non-strategic residual assets to the "most appropriate bodies" to enable English Partnerships to focus on strategic regeneration projects.

  This Council's recent work with English Partnerships has highlighted their worth to local regeneration. They have significant resources to facilitate master planning projects and support the compulsory purchase of land should that be required. The multi-disciplinary nature of English Partnerships ensures that a wide range of expertise can be called upon and they have developed a greater understanding of local needs and priorities.

  What will be critical in their future role will be their relationship with the local council. To this end, English Partnerships and Basildon Council recently formed a Strategic Development Partnership, which also includes the East of England Development Agency, the Thames Gateway South Essex Partnership, and the DTLR (through the Thames Gateway Strategic Executive and GO-East). In bringing together the main agencies to work towards common objectives and identifying barriers to regeneration, the Council is able to plan confidently new initiatives and redevelopment schemes, in the knowledge that there is open dialogue with English Partnerships and the protocols in place for dealing with disputes.

  This Partnership evolved from the work the Council undertook with English Partnerships in preparing a town strategy for Basildon. The Strategic Development Partnership has endorsed a Joint Statement of Intent, which identifies the roles of the main agencies and seven key objectives, drawn from the objectives of each agency. A copy of the Joint Statement is enclosed.

  In the past, English Partnerships have, as a legacy of the Commissions for the New Towns, tended to promote their own schemes with a capital return in mind, rather than promoting regeneration and supporting the Council in its regeneration objectives. This has led to delay and conflict on major schemes, difficulties in English Partnerships securing planning consent and protracted negotiations with the Council to secure reinvestment from English Partnerships or the relaxation of restrictive covenants.

  As a demonstration of this new approach, English Partnerships are now working with the Council on the Gardiners Lane South project, one of their 31 National Strategic Sites. The site has a long and highly contentious planning history, which after 10 years since first being identified as a comprehensive development area remains undeveloped. One of the reasons for this lengthy delay has been the approach taken by the CNT and until recently English Partnerships, where the motive for developing the site focussed on the return on the investment, rather than achieving the planning objectives. Last year the Council decided to take the initiative, adopt a fresh approach to the planning of the site and a new project brief for the site, which English Partnerships have endorsed and agreed to fund a master planning exercise.

  Following from this success, the Strategic Development Partnership will shortly meet to start work on town centre master plans for Basildon and Laindon, both of which have developer interest in major redevelopment proposals. Although English Partnership's land ownership in the town centres is limited, the restrictive covenants thay hold ensure that they remain a major partner in town centre regeneration.

  With regard to the transfer of their residual assets, in his Press Statement of 20 March 2002, the Minister refers to the transfer of non-strategic assets to the "most appropriate bodies" and refers to local authorities as an example. It should be stressed that the only appropriate body is the local council.

  When the community related assets transfers took place in Basildon, restrictive covenants, with clawback provisions, were placed on all assets. In addition, many of the assets sold to private individuals and developers were subject to restrictions. Given the current climate of budget constraints on councils and the inherent cost of the new town legacy, the transfer of English Partnership's non-strategic assets to the Council will be critical. This will assist the Council in furthering regeneration initiatives through the reinvestment of the proceeds from the sale of the realisable asstes. The alternative option of the transfer of the assets to another body, for example the Regional Development Agency, will only create for local councils and developers another government agency to deal with, one which will be divorced from the local area and with no political accountability.

  These covenants have created restrictions in bringing forth regeneration projects, whereby either the Council has to enter into protracted negotiations with English Partnerships to reach agreement on the value and appropriateness of the covenants and clawback, or make payment from the land sale to English Partnerships, money that should be poured back into the regeneration project. Whilst there are instances whereby English Partnerships has reused income from residual assets to part fund a project, for example Five Links, this has only been after lengthy negotiations and delay.

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