‘Confidential’ assessments for council HQ move plan in Leamington made public

What the new HQ could look like
What the new HQ could look like

Previously confidential reports into the financial viability of Warwick District Council’s controversial plans to move its headquarters have now been made public.

The applications for planning permission on the Riverside House headquarters site for housing and on the Covent Garden multi-storey for the building of new offices for the authority, apartments and the replacement of the car park in Russell Street have been criticised by objectors because they do not include any provision for affordable homes.

Normally, a planning authority - in this case the council itself - would require 40 per cent of homes in planning applications of more than 11 dwellings to be affordable.

However, the policy in the council’s Local Plan for housing and infrastructure across the district allows applicants to vary this requirement if they can show that the scheme is not financially viable if affordable housing at the required levels is allowed in the development.

In this case this information was provided by the applicant - or the district council and Public Sector PLC in a Limited Liability Partnership (LLP) - in the usual confidential manner and a separate independent report was also commissioned by the authority.

Both reports were presented to the planning committee as part of its consideration of the applications, which were granted planning permission in January.

Warwick and Leamington MP Matt Western led the protests, demanding that the council should make the reports public. But officers said such documents are always confidential so they would not publish them. However, this week, they were published on the council’s website, after pressure from Labour councillors.

The report highlights that the council needs to get as much money as possible from the Riverside site plan to make the HQ financially viable, which is why officers planned for no ‘affordable housing’. But Labour councillors said the council is prioritising its HQ ahead of affordable homes.

Labour’s Brunswick ward councillor Kristie Naimo said: “This is good news for the case of openness and transparency - although it is worrying that it has taken councillors like myself more than six months of questions and lobbying to see these documents.

“But this also confirms what we have suspected all along – the council wants to build its own offices and in order to cross subsidise, has knowingly sacrificed all of the affordable housing.

“It’s a shame they have chosen to prioritise this office move over much-needed affordable housing in the district.”

To view the viability assessments or to find out more about the council’s headquarters relocation plans go online at https://www.warwickdc.gov.uk/info/20731/council_offices/1161/head_office_relocation

***** Of the assessments being made public, council leader Cllr Andrew Mobbs said: “This will enable everyone to see the case made by the applicant and the independent professional advice that was considered by the planning committee in making its decision. In addition, the advice now received has prompted the council to start a review of how it treats the confidentiality of viability reports at planning committee.”

Approval of the plans was subject to a Section 106 agreement requiring the Riverside House site to be reassessed when the development is underway. If this demonstrates that the viability position had improved then the applicant would be liable to make an affordable housing contribution.