To report concerns in respect of several governance issues arising from the way Council officers handled the sale of land at Redwood Crescent, and to make recommendations intended to prevent their recurrence.
Members considered a report which concerned several governance issues arising from the way Council officers had handled the sale of land at Redwood Crescent. The sale of land and garages at Redwood Crescent in Beeston, and the subsequent difficulties with the small housing development there had been the subject of much local controversy and media attention.
The report considered issues arising under the legal framework governing the Council’s power to dispose of land (section 123 of the Local Government Act 1972); issues arising under the legal framework for Assets of Community Value; and issues arising under the law, guidance and local constitutional provisions concerning Freedom of Information Act requests. The following points were amongst those raised:
The Leader of the Council apologised for the circumstances that were set out in the report and assured members and residents that all necessary actions would be taken to solve current problems and prevent similar issues arising in future on other sites.
1. That the report be noted and the Chief Executive be requested to implement the following recommendations.
2. That when considering sites for disposal, a site visit is carried out by a professional valuer and a record, including photographic, be taken of the land and any buildings and other characteristics including the use actually being made of it.
3. That ward councillors be advised when any site in their ward is being considered for inclusion in a list of sites for potential disposal.
4. That, before disposing of land, other than under short-term let or licence, the Council take professional valuation advice, which should be made independent of the purchaser.
5. That the Council introduce procedures to ensure that its duties under section 123 of the Local Government Act 1972 are complied with, including:
(a) provision for not disposing of the freehold of any site without the approval of the Chief Executive, in consultation with the Chair of the appropriate committee, unless individual authority for the disposal had already been given by Council or under the delegated authority of a committee;
(b) provision for ensuring that there is effective market testing, using template practices, in the interests of achieving best consideration for a site;
(c) advertising any land which may be considered to be open space, with a default assumption of advertisement where there is any doubt as to whether a site consists of, or includes, open space.
6. That where a site is sold for housing purposes, any intended limitations on user to encourage affordable housing provision by the purchaser, which may have discounted its open market value, must be reflected in contractual commitments by the purchaser which will run with the title to the land.
7. That, for sales (other than sales at auction) of sites for housing purposes at any discounted value, the ability of the purchaser to develop the site is tested, by way of references from other local authorities, prior to the Council entering into any legal commitment.
8. That any notice received for or on behalf of a vendor or purchaser of an Asset of Community Value claiming to be a relevant disposal or otherwise requesting that the asset should be de-listed must be subject to full examination, including, where necessary, inquiries of HM Land Registry, to confirm the claimed transaction will have, or has had, the claimed effect, before any such asset is de-listed.
9. That officers be reminded of their personal accountability in relation to the accuracy of any information supplied in response to any Freedom of Information or Environmental Information Regulations requests, with standard form internal electronic documentation being prepared or amended to clearly emphasise the seriousness within which any deliberately false, reckless or negligently prepared information will be treated.