Opposition councillors on Surrey County Council have brought to light that Surrey County Council is secretly negotiating a proposal to enter into a joint venture property development arrangement with a private sector partner.
Plans kept secret
Opposition county councillors have found that Surrey County Council is in the process of planning with a private sector partner to provide housing and development across dozens of sites in a secret deal that could be worth over £1bn.
SCC is already and secretly in the process of tendering a contract for a “Joint Property Joint Venture Partner”. This is described as “a unique opportunity to offer development delivery and service expertise across a raft of property development projects”. The project would see Surrey County Council, along with a large number of public sector partners, releasing land and vacant sites currently owned by the County Council and others into the Joint Vehicle.
The value of the project is estimated to be between £250m and £1.5bn, over a 15 year period with 32 sites currently identified but with potentially 100 more under consideration.
The procurement document states that “The Council aims to secure delivery expertise, and bring capacity and pace to a development programme that ensures optimal performance and returns from investment activities”.
So far, not so bad?
Done properly, this is could be very positive for Surrey, especially as the County holds property that has been empty for over a decade. The concern of opposition councillors on Surrey is that thay have no idea as to the details of how much a potential private sector partner would be looking to make in profit and what the margins or rate of return are for the county council. There is no information as to what kind of housing will be provided, tenure and whether it meets the needs of local residents.
Lib Dem Leader, Cllr Watson, has said “These plans deserve the highest level of scrutiny and public engagement, which is the exact opposite of the Conservative administration’s approach so far to its management of its own assets and the culture of secrecy which is prevalent at County Hall.”
Cllr Watson calling for the release of the full list of potential development sites so that councillors and residents can play their part in scrutinising these highly complex and secretive proposals.”
Other concerns raised by opposition councillors include: no mention so far of affordabilility of housing to be provided or the long term sustainability of developments undertaken by the Joint Venture.
Councillor Jonathan Essex, noted that there have been similar joint venture development vehicles in Haringey and Southwark, which have come under intense criticism after public scrutiny has revealed the flaws within the small print of these highly complex contractual arrangements.
He is calling for the County Council to engage with its own residents and present the full financial picture so that well-informed scrutiny can take place regarding this hugely important matter.
Cllr Watson and Cllr Essex have today written to the Leader of Surrey County Council, urging to share more information on these proposals with all county councillors.