Jacob Williams
Tuesday 5th July, 2016

UPDATED: Call-in for cabinet’s ‘loan’ approval

UPDATED: Call-in for cabinet’s ‘loan’ approval

UPDATED: See below.

I’m so alarmed by a decision taken by Pembrokeshire County Council’s cabinet at its July meeting yesterday morning that I have set about the process of having the decision called-in.

Unfortunately the details I am able to provide of the proposal, and subsequent decision, are intentionally limited.

The council’s director of development, Dr. Steven Jones, deemed that the proposal – under agenda item 27 of the meeting – should be “taken in private and confidential session as it involves the likely disclosure of exempt information,” and that in his opinion “the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information.”

The agenda item is titled:

Former Narberth School Site Redevelopment Update

– and that is all the public can glean from the agenda, for the four page report inside it is redacted, stating only: “Document is Restricted.”

The only information currently in the public domain can be found in the record of the cabinet’s decision, which I reproduce in its entirety below:

36. Former Narberth School Site Redevelopment Update

DECISION:

(a) That the position in relation to the delivery of the mixed retail and residential scheme on the old school site, Narberth be noted; and continued support to the preferred developer, Abbeymore Estates/Knox and Wells Ltd in bringing the scheme to fruition, be confirmed; but that this support and the contract be withdrawn if the developers fail to secure the tenants and commence the scheme by 31 December 2016.

(b) That a revised offer from Abbeymore Estates/Knox and Wells Ltd, as set out in the report of the Director of Development, be accepted, in keeping with the independent valuation advice from the Valuation Office.

(c) That a loan be made available to Abbeymore Estates/Knox and Wells Ltd, as set out in the report of the Director of Development, under the well-being power contained in section 2 of the Local Government Act 2000 for the promotion or improvement of the economic well-being of Narberth by facilitating the delivery of the regeneration of the former Narberth school site; and that the Chief Finance Officer and Director of Development be authorised to negotiate and agree terms to facilitate the loan.

(d) That consideration be given to demolishing the former School building and utilising the site as a temporary car park.

Reason for Decision: To facilitate the delivery of the important town centre regeneration scheme at the former Narberth school site.

As a member of the council I have in my possession a copy of the confidential report which remains exempt, so I’m unable to disclose any of its contents.

In a nutshell, the council has agreed to accept a “revised” sale price for the Narberth school site and give the same purchaser a loan.

It remains unclear at this stage whether the previous sale price the council had agreed for this prime Narberth real estate was legally binding within an enforceable contract.

Whilst accepting a “revised” price for the sale, cabinet’s decision yesterday also gave the go-ahead to the cash-strapped council giving the purchaser a cash loan.

The public aren’t allowed to know the proposed terms of the loan – but we shouldn’t worry too much because even the cabinet weren’t told – this has been delegated to officers to sort out.

Whilst I am unable to reveal how many zeros are tacked on the end of the “loan,” or the “revised” sale price, I have set out my reasons for calling the decision in, below.

Under the council’s constitution a cabinet decision can be called-in to the relevant overview and scrutiny committee for further scrutiny – in this case that’s the economy O&S committee.

If willing, the committee’s chairman – Cllr. Michael John – can call-in a decision at another councillor’s request.

I have asked Cllr. John if he is willing to call-in the decision, with a brief explanation setting out my areas of concern.

He has told me that he is considering my request and will let me know by midday tomorrow (Wednesday.)

In case Cllr. John refuses to agree to my call-in request, the call-in will still go ahead, provided I am able to acquire enough councillors’ signatures and I submit the request in writing by 5pm on Thursday.

An extract from my call-in request to Cllr. Michael John, chairman of the economy overview and scrutiny committee

The areas of concern which led to my calling-in the decision relate to the cabinet’s access to sufficient information (within the written report and during the meeting) on the council’s contractual position regarding the purchase/sale of the Narberth site, and also whether sufficient information was provided to cabinet members regarding the terms of the large loan that the council will make, and the background to it.

The above two areas of concern are by no means exhaustive but on the whole I believe the cabinet’s decision – an extraordinary one, I’m sure you will agree – will benefit from further scrutiny by your committee, with its cross-party membership.

As you can appreciate the clock has already started ticking on the call-in period and I would appreciate your reply, whether in agreement or refusal to accept my call-in request, at your earliest convenience – and by Wednesday morning at the latest if possible, because in the event of your refusal I will have no option but to acquire the other councillors’ signatures.

If you are willing to agree to my request the constitution requires you to inform the council’s head of legal and committee services (by 5pm on Thursday 7th July) that you will call-in the cabinet’s decision.

I look forward to your reply, and hope that you agree to my request.

UPDATE:

I’m pleased to report that Cllr. John has agreed to my call-in request and will arrange for the matter to be brought to his committee for further scrutiny within the next fortnight.


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27 Comments...

  • Bemused of Pembroke

    Selling the family silver is one thing, paying a buyer to take it off OUR hands is a little worrying.

    Is the buyer not able raise finance the normal way? If so why not?

    Has Pembrokeshire County Council opened up an unregulated commercial banking arm?

    To whom do the rest of the general public direct their loan requests to?

    Did we not have “Slipper of the Dock” investigate possible crimes when it concerned a few windows and a roof?

    Who are we going to call for a whole building and a shred of decency?

    Questions, questions. Sadly I can foresee no answers.

  • Ianto

    Given this authority’s track record in lending to commercial developments, your alarm at the prospect is well founded.

    Narberth does not need more commercial outlets, there will be enough to go round when the loss of commercial rate relief bites.

  • Ivor Whistle

    I do hope that this ‘potential loan’ is NOT converted into share capital, as I believe happened with the original ‘Bluestone’ loan…and we all know where that ended…

  • Welshman 23

    What a shock, seeing how much it costs to keep the buildings that are unoccupied – circa £600 per day.

    I have a suggestion, I will work on a self-employed basis and be paid on the savings I make at the Kremlin. I am sure I could save a fortune for the Pembrokeshire people. No savings, no pay.

    Seriously, these meetings in smoky rooms need to be stopped and we need transparency. We have more chance of re-joining the EU than for this to happen at the Kremlin.

  • Flashbang

    Just what needs to be done to get a proper police investigation into this council?

    What kind of imbeciles do they take the taxpayers of the county to be, to throw money at yet another developer unable to fund its projects?

    Will anybody be held responsible for this fiasco or will another large amount of money be allowed to disappear without any accountability?

  • Phil

    It appears our late and little lamented chief executive was not the only senior officer who thinks they do not have to answer to the elected members.

    Just how cabinet members can approve this without knowledge of the full details beggars belief.

    Remind me, what was said about more open government in Pembrokeshire now the artful dodger has gone?

  • Malcolm Calver

    Ianto, I can understand the reason why existing commercial outlets might not want additional outlets as it would be competition, but what evidence do you have that Narberth shoppers or in fact those people visiting Narberth do not want alternative commercial outlets?

    Pembrokeshire County Council does not have a good record in the money lending business and should not be involved to this extent, put the sale of the site out to tender and leave any potential developers borrow money on the open market for any scheme they wish to pursue.

  • Keanjo

    Surely the best option would be for the council to demolish the building and create a car park/landscaped open space until such time as a developer came forward with a suitable scheme on what is,after all, a prime site in Narberth.

  • How dare the council try to do this in secret, using OUR money to facilitate a loan to a business that many of us don’t want to develop their plans in the first place.

    Give back the chance to others to buy and if there are loans available why not let the community take it over.

  • This is totally unacceptable behaviour by the council yet again.

    The whole affair stinks and has done from day one – our council will be in Private Eye’s ‘Rotten Boroughs’ yet again.

    The whole site development should go back to square one and the community should have their say on what happens to it.

    The only good thing is Sainsbury’s are out of the picture but for the council to lend money to a developer to carry out a development which the community has no say in is completely beyond their remit and they must be made to be accountable.

  • Emma Lee

    A total disgrace!

    Let the people of Narberth have their say.

  • Paul Absalom

    Another school in special measures, dodgy deals. When is someone going to challenge ‘my way or no way’ Adams, and start running the county efficiently?

  • Averil Wood

    Is this yet another case of ‘NOT WHAT YOU KNOW – but WHO YOU KNOW?

    Sounds like a training course for the greedy boys.

  • Shane Higgon

    If the site value has been revised and the council are minded to sell I would be happy to submit a proposal and bid.

    Why if the value has been revised have the council not put this opportunity to the market? There are alternate uses for this site if the return on investment case can be changed.

  • Ianto

    The lack of demand for commercial outlets anticipated by the developers has given rise to their plea to PCC to not only negotiate on price, but provide financial support which the banks will presumably not supply due to viability doubts.

    I have no financial interest in Narberth, my comments are based on nothing other than a visitor’s reflection on business churn and the impact of changes in rent/rates charges.

  • Brian

    Narbeth is the only town in the county with a vibrant though niche retail sector. If you want that to continue then don’t let PCC anywhere near having the opportunity to destabilise that situation.

    PCC’s grubby economic development influence is plain to see in the myriad of empty retail units in Haverfordwest, Milford Haven and Pembroke Dock – thriving towns in my youth.

  • The Rock

    I think what this shows is a total disconnect from the people of Pembrokeshire. There is no understanding or connection to the people they represent.

    They can’t even work out what to do with a small pile of bricks in Narberth. Come to that they struggle to put together a vision statement they can publish.

    Probably because “We’ve got control of your money and first dibs to us” might not go down too well next May.

    See cabinet webcast 23rd May, 32:42. And we now pay the price again as our communities die back and they waste our money.

  • Ianto

    Interesting further details in the Herald today. If I were a disappointed under bidder in the original sale, methinks Sue, Grabbitt and Runne would shortly be in touch with Jamie’s happy band. How much could this jolly caper generate in legal costs?

  • Welshman 23

    Why would David Lloyd step into the cabinet education role, is he going to be the next defector to the IPPG?

    Perhaps he is getting an induction for when he takes over as leader.

  • Timetraveller

    The culture of lack of due process that has prevailed for so long in Pembrokeshire is at the root of this Narberth debacle. Officials and leading councillors have an “end justifies the means” approach to council finances.

    Taking the argument that the Pembroke Dock grants scheme is a funding diversion exercise to reduce liabilities on the ratepayer, it is not so beneficial if a culture of deception is tolerated.

    Democracy does have its costs, we have to pay them to have a well run council, though the price can be offset if such corruption is rooted out.

  • Goldingsboy

    Why, if the county is suffering so badly from the swingeing austerity programme of central government, is it now preparing to lend such a large sum to the private sector?

    And, am I alone in my mind, in attributing to it the most venal of motives?

  • Rayner Peett

    If I had known about the council’s generous attitude to the Narberth old school redevelopment then I would have offered them £5 for the site and asked for a £50m loan, but then I don’t have people in my pocket.

  • Loobeloo

    How do they have money to loan but tell us all the time there is NO MONEY when local community centres and especially the adult centre in Tenby are faced with closure?

    Something really stinks about this.

    PCC says cutbacks, cutbacks, cutbacks all due to the dire financial situation! But never mind, we can still make a new cabinet post, money no object.

  • Faux Espoir

    Can anyone identify other scenarios in the last two years where the council/cabinet have loaned organisations and/or developers money from the coffers?

    There seems to have been a line drawn under the Pembroke Dock saga, with the police probably waiting until a new council is elected in 2017 before presenting its findings.

    Welshman 23 isn’t too far from the truth when he outlines Cllr David Lloyd’s development into the council’s leadership role.

    Cllr Evans in 2012 highlighted what was important to Cllr Lloyd in keeping St David’s school open, which he did. He now finds himself fronting the secondary school review, he is the one which sits comfortably on the A Level board, has tenuous links to the college and now is within the inner sanctum of local politics. He may find Cllr Stoddart can be a good friend but unfortunately a terrible foe.

    Cllr Lloyd needs to heed the words of Shakespeare in the Merchant of Venice.

    ‘If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?’

  • Pembs. Exile

    It seems that Pembrokeshire is not short of “Teflon”, to coat some members of the county council.

    Like the “Old Codger”, author of that other website, I am of the opinion that the council have acted “ultra vires” in relation to the notice of motion relating to secondary education in Haverfordwest at Thursday’s extraordinary meeting.

    If the leader of the council had evidence to confirm that the notice of motion proposed contravened the Welsh Government schools reorganisation code, then it should have failed on legal grounds and no other proposal should have been forthcoming.

    The notice of motion stemmed from a decision taken by the council in relation to secondary education in the Haverfordwest area. In the original proposal in May 2016, defeated by the council, no mention was made of Tenby, Milford Haven or Pembroke.

    However in debating the notice of motion, it is reported that after a 45 minute adjournment, a new proposal was placed before and passed by the council. The proposal totally negated the original notice of motion.

    As I read the rules of the Pembrokeshire County Council, no amendment to a motion must have the effect of negating that motion.

    Delay, with schools still in special measures, means the children of Pembrokeshire are being denied an efficient education.

    I would certainly not trust PCC to organise a “bun fight” even if I was invited to provide the buns and the contestants.

  • John Hudson

    Surely, if the wording of the motion as drafted did not meet the requirements of the school organisation code, it should not have been allowed in the first place and the extraordinary council meeting need not have been held.

    Am I missing something?

  • Galf

    If you think the council’s loan to the purchaser of the Narberth site is extraordinary let’s wait and see how much ratepayers’ cash PCC will give to Egnedol Ltd for use on the old mine depot site at Blackbridge.

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