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Paper  5A - 31 January 2003 Meeting


31 January 2003


Report by the Chief Executives’ Group


That the Association write to the Deputy Prime Minister and other Government departments in support of the representations from East Hampshire, whilst acknowledging that some MoD disposals have been handled well within the existing guidelines.

1. East Hampshire District Council has made a submission to the Deputy Prime Minister, given in Annex 1, expressing the continuing concern of local authorities at the Treasury’s requirement to achieve "best consideration" in financial terms.

2. The Chief Executives’ Group has considered a request from East Hampshire that the Association should write in support of the attached letter. The Group advises that, in doing so, reference should be made to the good liaison with the MoD over some land disposals and the successful outcome in some cases. Two examples - Gunwharf Quays and HMS Daedalus - are given in Annex 2.

3. Dr. Celia Clark, author of the report attached to Councillor Mrs Cartwright’s letter, is planning to attend the meeting for this item.

Chief Executive, Gosport Borough Council and Lead on MoD Issues

Date:20 January 2003
Contact:Nick Goulder - 023 8068 8431, E-mail hiow@eastleigh.gov.uk


Letter from Councillor  Mrs Elizabeth Cartwright, Leader of East Hampshire District Council
to The Rt Hon John Prescott, MP, PC

18 December 2002

Dear Mr Prescott

Sale of Public Sector Land : Impact on Other Government Objectives

I am writing to you to express the District Council's concerns about the adverse impact which the Treasury's requirement to achieve 'best [price?]consideration' in public sector land sales can have on other aspects of public policy, in particular the protection of the historic heritage and achieving more affordable housing.

At the LGA conference on planning last week, Lord Rooker commented that you are extremely concerned about this, giving an example of where health authority land is being sold without affordable housing and key worker homes being provided on part of the site. Lord Rooker said that you are committed to achieving a co-ordinated approach to land sales in the future so that all aspects of Government policy can be addressed, and not just maximum land values. The District Council would strongly support you in this approach.

I would particularly like to draw to your attention the impact which Ministry of Defence land sales can have on the future protection and maintenance of the historic built environment. One of our officers attended a seminar arranged by the Civic Trust South East last month which examined the impact of Ministry of Defence land sales on the protection of the country's military historic heritage. A summary of the main conclusions of the meeting, prepared by Dr Celia Clark, is attached.

The Civic Trust meeting brought home to us the importance of taking a much wider view of 'maximum benefit' when disposing of public sector land. Maximising income from land sales is undoubtedly important, but not at the expense of failing to achieve other social, community and environmental objectives. I hope that you will be successful in your bid to improve the current system of public sector land sales.I have copied this letter to Lord Rooker and have written to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport about the issues raised by the Civic Trust meeting which affect her Department.


The Ministry of Defence - one of the largest landowners in the UK - is selling off its unwanted sites, large and small, in what Giles Worsley called "the greatest exchange of property since the dissolution of the monasteries", in response to defence cuts, consolidation onto joint tri-service facilities, and the military need for rapid response teams, rather than the vast fixed encampments of the Cold War.

Because these bases are public property, people expect a return when they are sold which is in the local public interest - that their redevelopment will contribute to social goals. These special brownfield sites offer a unique opportunity for urban and rural regeneration and sustainable development. But the MOD has always made it clear that post-defence social reconstruction on sites it no longer needs is not its responsibility and that it is not funded to do so – or to keep its historic structures more than wind and weather tight, when its priority is national defence.

The disposal system is currently controlled by the 1992 Treasury rules – sale to the highest bidder, at maximum planning value, within three years - with slightly lower prices and longer timescales for historic sites, according to 1999 DCMS guidelines. As more and more sites are sold, this system is being heavily criticised – by the Public Accounts Committee, select committees, local authorities, MPs and local communities.

Other countries such as the US, France and Sweden, have independent sales agencies or locally controlled base reuse committees, with a remit to help local communities affected by defence cuts and to achieve other government objectives such as sustainable development and beneficial reuse of historic buildings, rather than expecting only financial returns to the exchequer.  Maybe we have something to learn from them.

In the UK, the MOD controls disposals through its own agency, Defence Estates, and the early stages are secret: choosing the highest value land uses and short listing developers is done in house, with local authority planners only becoming involved via the Local Plan, development briefs and actual applications. Local people only have the chance to respond once sites are sold and proposals are on the table. Developers paying the highest price for defence sites exact the maximum value land uses, which make it hard for local authorities to insist on uses that meet local goals and aspirations, especially when Defence Estates have agreed a target of £500 million for the disposal of surplus land and properties over the next three years.

However, there are cases where the civilian future, negotiated with local people, is both acceptable to most stakeholders and profitable for developers. Regions are affected to different extents: in the Eastern Region there are only sixteen properties – from a house to an airfield - for sale, expected to raise £41m this year. In contrast, the South East is particularly affected – 56 sites are currently being sold and expected to raise £100million this financial year. 

The Civic Trust South East held a seminar in Winchester to examine good and bad practice in defence disposals. The participants came up with several proposals to change the disposal system, to shift outcomes towards local benefit and the protection of heritage sites. They now need to be taken forward to national discussion.

They recommended that community involvement of local communities should begin as early as possible, rather than waiting for the conventional planning process to begin.
Sites of national importance, such as the Royal Aircraft Establishment in Farnborough, require national support, which it did not receive. The MOD's preliminary valuation, selection, and shortlisting of bidders before the sale should be open, robust, transparent and accountable, rather than taking place behind closed doors as at present. For historic sites, the MOD should work with expert bodies such as English Heritage to draw up conservation management plans for historic sites before disposal. Adequate time is needed to assess historic areas, when independent research and evaluation of heritage issues can be carried out before disposal. There should be independent drafting of, and/or English Heritage approval of, development briefs before the disposal process is finalised. In-house specialist historic buildings advice is currently less available to the MOD; a related vacancy has not been filled for more than a year. 

Treasury interests should not dominate issues of the national heritage; there is a need for balanced Best Value criteria (financial value against heritage value). The DCMS guidance to government departments on disposal of state property needs to be more closely adhered to. The Ministry of Culture Media and Sport should approve bidders' proposals as a prior short-list process before selection by the Treasury on price; there should not always be a presumption of redevelopment. Conservation area status and listing of historic buildings, based on historical research, should be considered by local authorities and English Heritage, and the process should be open to public debate. Section 106 Agreements (planning gain), which are sometimes seen as inadequate, should be approved by English Heritage.

Disposal of sites to a community trust - as happened via a developer in Caterham - should be recognised as a pathway, for example at Greenham Common. The MOD and developers need to learn the value of early local input and consultation, as was clear at the Royal Gunpowder Works, Waltham Abbey, and at Caterham and Ashford Barracks, where the new land uses met with widespread public support.

Currently, each sale is seen as a one-off, so that it is hard to see the national picture; but research is now establishing the full extent of the sell-off.  Airfields, Territorial Army halls and many other military, airforce and naval sites are making their way onto the market. Are local people getting the benefit when they do?

Dr. Celia Clark
17 December 2002




Gunwharf Quays

Former HMS Vernon. A secure land based site of 12.14ha released in 1995. Development Brief published in Nov 1995, followed by marketing and an appraisal by MoD of all bids, shortlisting, and a final decision in mid 1996 behind closed doors by the MoD.

This was potentially difficult because the MoD decision should have been made just on best offer. There was a real concern for the Local Planning Authority if the best offer was not the best scheme. However, all the bidders had the opportunity to make presentations to the Local Planning Authority and seek our advice. Most (not all) did, and as a result one or two entered a fairly detailed dialogue resulting in amendments to their final submissions. We commented to the MoD on the acceptability of each of the schemes in respect of adherence to the Brief and likelihood of planning permission being granted. This was important, because we understand (although we only suspected at the time, and it has never been officially acknowledged) that the selected scheme (Berkeley/Lordland) was not the best offer by some margin. It was certainly the scheme we felt had best potential for delivering the Brief for a mixed use waterfront development, as has subsequently proved to be the case. A deciding factor may have been the strong indications given about the relative prospects of planning permission being granted for the competing schemes.

The process delivered the right scheme because the Local Planning Authority had a clear Brief, the developers talked to the Local Planning Authority, and the MoD listened. It could easily have failed to deliver because the MoD were not required to listen to our advice, and could merely have opted for best price. This would be a major concern where two schemes adhere to the letter of the Brief, and one is subjectively better, but not best bid. This is a real risk, particularly because it is difficult to write a very tight and prescriptive planning brief under such circumstances.


HMS Daedalus

This former airfield lies to the north and north west of Lee-on-the-Solent. The site covers a total area of approximately 200 hectares. The majority of the site (160 hectares), comprising the runway and some isolated airfield buildings lies within Fareham Borough Council administration area. The remainder of the site (40 hectares) lies within the Borough of Gosport and this area contains most of the airfield holdings and accomMoDation blocks which are adjacent to Lee-on-the-Solent. Some of these buildings have important historical associations and are contained within the Daedalus Conservation Area.

Although declared surplus to Ministry of Defence requirements in 1994, the Parliamentary Under Secretary for Defence advised in July 2001 that the site is now subject to Review and probable retention. The two Borough Councils prepared a joint Strategy in co-operation with Hampshire County Council and the Defence Estate Organisation in 1997 to guide the future development of the site, and should the site be released, this will provide the policy framework with any necessary updating. The Strategy considers that in Gosport 33 hectares are suitable for development and divides the site into a series of areas which it considers suitable for a mixture of uses. It will be important to establish the right balance of uses particularly between housing and employment. In line with the Council's objectives to provide employment opportunities for local residents and to create sustainable communities there is a need to provide considerably more employment on the site than new residents requiring employment.

Part of the site (12 hectares) was designated in the Strategy as a business park, but this is now likely to be retained by the Ministry of Defence for the provision of Service Married Quarters. A proposal to this effect was submitted by the Defence Estate in September 2001 together with an Interim Statement revising the original Strategy.

In the meantime while the MoD establishes a permanent future for the site the local planning authority has granted a single planning consent allowing 11.8 hectares of the site on Gosport to be used for storage and industrial uses. The expiry date of this consent was June 2003. The MoD requested, and was granted, a further consent on this site until 2007. Where problems have occurred on this site MoD Defence Estate has sought to implement a speedy resolution.

The advantage of this site is that it has granted approximately twelve short term leases with about 75 people employed currently.

Last update: 21/01/2003
Author: Nick Goulder, Policy Manager

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