Fenland Council sets designs on selling the Wisbech site used for building awards competition

Designs for the flats that won the Building Design Awards competition.

Designs for the flats that won the Building Design Awards competition. - Credit: Archant

Fenland District Council is to sell off – for £50,000 and less than market value – a site in Wisbech that will showcase an iconic block of 11 flats that won a design competition.

Cllr Alan Melton at the site in Coalwharf Road, Wisbech.

Cllr Alan Melton at the site in Coalwharf Road, Wisbech. - Credit: Archant

The council accepts “outright freehold disposal does reduce the amount of control” it has over the Coalwharf Road site but insists it is the only way forward.

Former leader Alan Melton announced the competition in 2011 and the winning entry was revealed at the 2013 Building Design Awards, held at the Boathouse.

But the build-lease option, under which the council would only dispose of the freehold once the flats were built, has proved a legal challenge too far.

Justin Wingfield, regeneration and estates manager, will tell cabinet next Thursday that the legal costs associated with build-lease “may impact upon the financial viability of the scheme”.

He will advise that the council sells the land – part owned by the county council and acquired during a land swap when the neighbouring county school was built – to get the project under way.

Mr Wingfield said Cllr Melton devised the competition to promote “exemplar development” by using a high profile, redundant site adjacent to South Brink.

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It would create “a bold and iconic statement regarding the high standards of quality design sought for Fenland”.

But Mr Wingfield says the winning bid, from Postland Developments of Peterborough, would only be viable if they acquired the freehold now for the three-storey block of flats.

To ensure the site is not sold on before anything is built, he is recommending a pre-emption clause to prevent that: if nothing happens within a fixed space of time the council could also buy it back.

Mr Wingfield said the sale value “should be considered as a secondary factor” which is why it is priced at the lower end of the market. It equates pro rata to £165,000 an acre which he says is lower than some recent disposals which range from £200,000 an acre to £400,000, depending on density.

He says the ‘value foregone’ is the difference between the market value and the lower value and that could mean anything from £20,000-£60,000 but cabinet can approve such a transaction.

Mr Wingfield says people must remember that the site has been derelict for 55 years and an opportunity to develop it “is once in a generation”.

He expects a planning application to come forward and to be granted “without any onerous obligations or conditions excepting the need for high quality development and a sympathetic planting scheme”.

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