Report number: COU/WS/21/007
(Councillor Joanna Rayner declared a local non-pecuniary interest as she was employed by West Suffolk Hospital and should the scheme proceed as proposed, the West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust were anticipated to be key partners within the Western Way Development. She remained in the meeting during the consideration of this item and took part in the debate and vote.)
Council considered this report which sought approval for a review and update of the business case for the Western Way Development (WWD), Bury St Edmunds and, as part of the wider scheme, the replacement of the Bury St Edmunds Leisure Centre.
Members noted that since the distribution of the agenda and papers for the meeting, the following typographical amendments had been made to the main business case update and review document. No changes were required to the recommendations contained in the report as a result of the amendments, and they had been rectified on the online version:
An incorrect total number had been transposed into the summary tables of modelled phase 1 demand (8,250 square metres instead of 7,750 square metres) set out in both the executive summary (paragraph 24) and Part C of the review document (paragraphs 29 and 30).
8,250 square metres would include some of the ancillary spaces such as meeting rooms, multi-activity areas of ‘The Street’, and so on, from which a small estimated income (“other income”) had been included in the illustrative revenue model in Part E of the review. However, for the purposes of the comparison of spaces being made in the earlier tables, 7,750 square metres was the correct number.
In order to allow Dr Stephen Dunn and Kate Vaughton, invited guests of the NHS to speak, and to allow technical matters to potentially be resolved during the debate, the Chair sought to suspend standing orders, as set in paragraph 19.1 of the Council Procedure Rules of the Constitution.
On the motion of Councillor Margaret Marks, seconded by Councillor Mike Chester, it was put to the vote and with the vote being unanimous, it was
That, in accordance with paragraph 19.1 of the Council Procedure Rules of the Constitution, standing orders be suspended until the debate on agenda item 8, ‘Western Way Development, Bury St Edmunds: final business case update and review’ is concluded. Normal standing orders will resume immediately prior to the vote being taken on the item.
Councillor Joanna Rayner, Portfolio Holder for Leisure, Culture and Community Hubs, drew relevant issues to the attention of Council, including reminding members of the processes that had previously been undertaken to progress the WWD. The final business case for the Western Way Development (including the business case for a replacement leisure centre) had been approved by Council in September 2019 with a view to moving ahead with delivering the scheme. Up to the point of spring 2020, several other significant steps had been taken to successfully progress the project and the only formal councillor decision still needed was for Cabinet to sign-off the appointment of a contractor.
With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, not only had work needed to immediately stop to progress the project, but the pandemic had impacted on the context in which the Western Way Development would be delivered, which had changed significantly.
This change, and the general delay caused by COVID-19, meant that it was appropriate to assess whether the tests set for the project in 2019 could still be met. Whilst the original masterplan for the site, the strategic case for the project, the design of the scheme, its highways provisions or the final mix of facilities did not require reconsideration, Council was now being asked to review the affordability of a deliverable scheme, and the appropriate safeguards that needed to be in place to secure delivery.
The following documents were attached to the covering report:
· Appendix 1: Leisure Provision Business Case Update June 2021
· Appendix 2: Action Plan from 2019 to 2020 External Assurance Review, Western Way Development – Update
· Appendix 3: Western Way Development Final Business Case Risk Register June 2021
· Exempt Appendix 4: Western Way Development Market Update and Anticipated Rent Analysis (available for restricted access online only and not attached to the printed versions of the report)
Councillor Rayner explained the project could proceed utilising a flexible, phased approach within the parameters of the full business case and planning consent. The flexibilities of the scheme would allow such adaptations and modifications to be made without jeopardising the principal objectives of the full business case and Councillor Rayner provided a detailed explanation on how this could be achieved upon consideration of the following key areas. Each had been reviewed against affordability, risk, safeguards and deliverability:
· Replacement of the leisure centre
· Public sector hub provision
· Commercial employment space
A fourth element of the project had also been reviewed in respect of the proposed development’s potential positive impact on the environment with many ‘green’ initiatives incorporated into the scheme.
Councillor Rayner moved the recommendations contained in the covering report.
The Chair invited Dr Stephen Dunn and Kate Vaughton, representatives of the NHS to speak. The NHS were potential key public sector partners within the proposed development and Dr Dunn and Ms Vaughton addressed Council in turn. Both placed emphasis on the commitment the NHS had on partnership working with other public sector organisations and the provision of space within the Western Way Development would help achieve its aims and ambitions for undertaking a joined-up approach to delivering excellent care and health services within the community. Dr Dunn also confirmed the intention of the Foundation Trust to enter into the required collaboration agreement for the project.
Following an invitation to Councillor Rayner to follow up on Dr Dunn’s and Ms Vaughton’s speeches, the Chair sought a seconder for the substantive motion, which was duly provided by Councillor John Griffiths, Leader of the Council.
Councillor Griffiths thanked Dr Dunn and Ms Vaughton on behalf the Council for attending the meeting and paid tribute to the NHS for their outstanding, tireless efforts during the pandemic. He then expressed his support for the proposed WWD, including:
· In partnership with others, the Council was in the process of making hubs possible across West Suffolk by bringing leisure, education and public services together to improve the quality of life for residents
· The WWD was designed to provide flexible, innovative and forward thinking space for both the public and commercial sectors
· The adoption of a phased approach would enable the development to come forward as soon as practicable whilst maintaining the aspirations of the business case and keeping costs neutral
The debate ensued with several members expressing their support for the proposals, each acknowledging the merits of the scheme, its flexibilities and ability to adapt to changing circumstances. With the appropriate safeguards in place, as provided in the report, financial challenges and other risks could be satisfactorily mitigated. The consensus felt that organisations working collaboratively and holistically would lead to better outcomes for the residents of West Suffolk. Such outcomes included better health and wellbeing, economic and environmental benefits.
Questions were raised regarding the financial risks, the commercial viability and confirmed public sector and commercial tenancies for the scheme. Alex Wilson, Strategic Director and project lead was invited by the Chair to respond. He provided technical detail and reiterated the safeguards that needed to be in place before the project could proceed, as provided in the business case update and review report.
In her right of reply, Councillor Rayner thanked those members that had expressed their support for the project and responded to a wide range of questions, including:
a. The Council had been working with the Highways Authority throughout the development of the proposed scheme. Working within the parameters of the masterplan for the site, planning consent had been given, which included measures required to be met by the Highways Authority and a travel plan was in place.
b. In the context of approaching the fourth anniversary of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, Councillor Max Clarke asked what guarantees could be given to residents that the same flammable materials were not used in the cladding applied to social housing across West Suffolk, with direct reference given to locations of social housing in Councillor Clarke’s ward. A written response would be provided by Councillor Sara Mildmay-White, Portfolio Holder for Housing and circulated to all members.
c. In the context of providing a fit-for-purpose swimming pool within the proposed new leisure centre, the report (Appendix 1, Leisure Provision, paragraph A.1.10) was correct where it stated, ‘a main swimming pool of at least 6-lane 25 metre…’ This meant there was flexibility within the scheme to do more if appropriate. Councillor Rayner invited Councillor Paul Hopfensperger to discuss the specifics of his other question regarding discussions with Sport England and Swim England outside of the meeting.
d. That it was wrong to say there would be no risks involved with a delivering a project of this scale; however, Councillor Rayner remained confident that sufficiently robust safeguards were in place to mitigate the risks. To move forward with this exciting, innovative project required courage and leadership; however, Councillor Rayner strongly believed through effective partnership working, better services and outcomes would be delivered for the residents of West Suffolk.
Following the conclusion of the debate, standing orders were resumed.
On the motion of Councillor Rayner, seconded by Councillor Griffiths, it was put to the vote and with the vote being 49 for the motion, 4 against and no abstentions, it was
1. this review and update of the business case for the Western Way Development (WWD), Bury St Edmunds and, as part of that wider scheme, the replacement of the Bury St Edmunds Leisure Centre, be approved so that Cabinet and officers can continue to deliver the project on the basis set out in the approved outline and final business cases, the external assurance review, this review and the Council’s Constitution;
2. the existing financial provisions, safeguards and financial tests for delivery of the project agreed by Council on 19 September 2019, and clarified through the action plan of the external assurance review approved by Cabinet on 14 January 2020, be reaffirmed subject to:
a. it being noted that that the project may now need to be delivered in phases if required;
b. the £27.9 million capital expenditure limit for the replacement of the leisure centre being replaced by a new condition that this element of the scheme is capable of achieving at least a break-even position as defined in appendix 1 to this review document (Report number: COU/WS/21/007);
c. public sector partners seeking more than 200 square metres of exclusive floorspace also being required to agree heads of terms and formal pre-let agreement at the project gateways defined in Part E of this review; and
d. the revised timescales outlined in this review.
The Chair thanked Dr Dunn and Ms Vaughton for attending the meeting before moving on to the next item.