SIAHAF tries to renege on community commitments

Councillors vote unanimously to require the developer to hand over freehold of the community facilities.
Councillors vote unanimously to require the developer to hand over freehold of the community facilities.

Posted - Jan 07, 2016

Councillors reject developer’s new proposal

In an extraordinary manoeuvre SIAHAF is trying to renege on its promises to build and hand over a community boatyard. After years of designing a DIY boatyard based on the specifications of the Jericho Wharf Trust, SIAHAF is instead now saying it will keep the boatyard itself and install a commercial operator to run it as a profit-making venture. The reason? It wants to ensure ‘health and safety’.

At a highly-charged meeting of the West Area Planning Committee on January 5, City councillors roundly rejected this proposal. Instead they instructed Council officers to draft a legal agreement that specifies that the freehold of the boatyard and the community centre land should be transferred to a community body.

Councillor Colin Cook pointed out that SIAHAF had obtained conditional planning permission on the basis that it complied with the agreed City planning stipulation that ‘the canalside land required for the boatyard will be transferred for nil consideration.’ That was one reason why it was allowed to get away with a smaller proportion of affordable housing. Councillor Cook said: “If I had thought this boatyard was going to end up under the control of the applicant for commercial benefit I would not have voted for it. Or I would have voted for it with extra conditions as regards the social housing requirement.”

The meeting had started with several areas of consensus. One concerned a slight reworking of the rear of the boatyard building. The other concerned the proposal to build a second fixed footbridge into the square to complement the larger new bridge at the foot of Great Clarendon Street. Both had general agreement.

Left foreground, Stephen Green. Right: Phyllis Starkey: “It is completely unacceptable for the applicant to try to renege.”

It was when issues of ownership arose that the sparks started to fly. JWT Chair Phyllis Starkey said: “The boatyard and the land for the community centre must be transferred freehold and unencumbered to the community, as was promised by the applicant at the February 2015 meeting of this committee. The freehold is absolutely essential to allow any community organization to raise money from individuals, but even more important to get the grants from public bodies. It is completely unacceptable for the applicant to try to renege on the commitment that was made, by attempting to retain ownership of the boatyard and imposing conditions on the leasehold transfer of the rest of the land.”

Stephen Green for SIAHAF said: “We want to ensure that it is a safe and secure environment. It’s a noisy industrial process, a boatyard. We want to protect the residential from any misuse. We will secure a professional operator.” Phyllis Starkey responded: “We have a business plan that would enable us to run the boatyard in an economically sustainable way. We would of course put in a professional manager.” Councillor Susanna Pressel said that the JWT had a group of well-qualified and high-powered trustees who would employ someone to run the boatyard. Councillor Elise Benjamin pointed out that in any case this is a matter not for Mr Green but the Health and Safety Executive.

One concern for the developer might be that, to fulfill the planning conditions, the developer would have to wait for the JWT to build the community centre before being able to build its commercial housing. Councillor Cook proposed a way out of this impasse. “I think we should release them from the requirement to make sure that there is the funding in place for the development of the community centre. That is a risk. But frankly I have more confidence in the community body, in the form of the JWT, to deliver the community centre than I do in the current developer.”

The committee voted unanimously to instruct the officers to draft the 106 agreement on this basis, so as to transfer the freehold of the boatyard site and the community centre to a community organization.

Councillor Cook concluded by saying: “This is an opportunity for the developer to come up with a proposal that meets those requirements. If he is going to continue down the current line, I would like to see the Section 106 back in front of us. But I suspect that without fettering my discretion he may get a rather dusty response if he continues to want to run his own boatyard.”

You can hear an extract of Councillor Cook’s contribution below.