December 6 2013 Latest news:
Story by: JOHN ELWORTHY
Saturday, September 28, 2013
Opponents of the £800,000 sale by Fenland Council of land along the Nene at Wisbech were roundly defeated after a scrutiny committee gave it the green light.
Controversy surrounding the proposed sale had led, in part, to the resignation of John Clark as the council’s portfolio holder for finance after he queried why a special cabinet meeting had been called to agree it when he was on holiday.
He had also highlighted, through a leaked email sent to all Conservative group members, council leader Alan Melton’s personal friendship with the developer bidding to buy the site.
The decision was ‘called in’ by the overview and scrutiny who found Mr Melton had properly declared his interest throughout, had not been involved in any of the processes, and had been totally hands off in the negotiations.
The committee also insisted that Mr Clark knew of the proposed sale and had been briefed both by the deputy leader Chris Seaton and senior officers of the council.
Mr Seaton said last night: “I am extremely pleased that the committee has ratified the cabinet decision - this is excellent news for Wisbech and Fenland.
“It not only provides continuation of the regeneration of the Nene Waterfront area but also utilises a ‘local’ developer that will support local jobs and skills and continues to build confidence in the area for much needed investment and housing”.
The 90 minute scrutiny committee also agreed that the deal – to provide a mix of 24 social and 46 private homes- represented excellent value for the council.
With a waiting list which has doubled in recent years to 3,000, councillors felt that even the addition of the proposed 24 new social housing units will be of benefit.
Councillors who quizzed officers about the need for a special cabinet meeting to ratify the sale were told that speed was essential so that Circle, the housing association provider, could guarantee Government money for the project. Circle, the parent company to Roddons Housing Association which took over Fenland’s 4,000 council houses in 2007, is on target now to complete the building of 500 extra homes by 2015.
The Nene site, which at one stage housed the town’s gasworks, will now be sold to local developers GB Construction Partnerships Ltd. Planning applications are expected shortly to enable an early start.
Councillors believe that with the social housing provision now accounted for along the Nene, major firms may now show renewed interest in acquiring the remaining land – all fronting the river- which is expected to be purely for private housing.
A council spokesman said the sale to GB Construction offers “good value in difficult economic times as well as the engagement of a local developer that will support local jobs and skills”.
The spokesman said they hoped work could begin next spring and be fully delivered within three years “subject to an improving local economy and in turn house sales”.