Those Ashton Gate Tesco questions in full

Last night a number of people put questions to the Full Council regarding the proposed Tesco at Ashton Gate with specific reference to the piece of land that’s owned by the council.

Among the most interesting unanswered questions are what happened to Jon Rogers? He was both listed on the council’s website and in writing to the questioners as the cabinet member who would be answering the questions. Instead, on the day at the last minute, the task was handed to Simon “Sweaty” Cook, the Lib Dems’ poorly disguised Clifton Tory boy Deputy Leader.

Charlie’s convinced there’s a split in the Lib Dems over Tescos and Rogers’ hasty and unexplained retreat from supplying answers on behalf of Janke and Cook, his Tory wing leadership and the Steve Lansdown enthusiasts in the party, suggests there may be some truth in this.

Lib Dem Cabinet member Gary Hopkins has also, on this blog, stated his opposition to Tesco. Keep an eye on this one … Is Janke’s night of the long knives at hand?

The other unanswered question is why were two of the Tesco questioners – Norris and Dyer – refused the opportunity by the – Lib Dem! – mayor to ask “Sweaty” Cook, who was clearly under pressure and performing poorly, further questions? Is it constitutional to prevent certain of the city’s residents the opportunity to question their politicians?

Here’s the questions and answers:

PQ3 MR T GRIFFIN TO ASK COUNCILLOR S COOK, DEPUTY LEADER AND CABINET MEMBER FOR CULTURE, SPORT AND CAPITAL PROJECTS

PROPOSED ASHTON GATE DEVELOPMENT

Q1 What are the most pressing social needs in relation to development land in South Bristol?

A1 There are many – jobs, housing, accessibility, leisure facilities, quality green space, shops,

Q2 Are there discussions with any parties relating to the sale of the publicly owned land at Ashton Gate Stadium and if so what are the proposed timescales for this sale?

A2 BCFC have been in discussion with BCC officers around the possible acquisition of the freehold of land owned by BCC. These discussions are on-going and a report will be taken to Cabinet when negotiations are complete and the planning applications determined. This is likely to be in the next few months.

Q3 Under what circumstances is it appropriate that Bristol City Council allows the sale of publicly owned land within Ashton Gate Stadium to enable a private company or individual to developer a superstore?

A3 Where the benefits of the disposal taking into account all factors including the wider benefits to the city as a whole are seen as positive.

Q4 Under what circumstances would permission for sale of the publicly owned land within Ashton Gate Stadium be refused?

A4 See 3 above – where there are no benefits.

Q5 Due to the contentious nature of the proposed development of Ashton Gate Stadium will a public consultation be held before the sale of the publicly owned land?

A5 It is not intended to hold a public consultation specifically on the future of this land. There has been considerable discussion and consultation over the development as a whole where individuals have had every opportunity to express their views.

PQ4 MR T DYER TO ASK COUNCILLOR S COOK, DEPUTY LEADER AND CABINET MEMBER FOR CULTURE, SPORT, AND CAPITAL PROJECTS

PROPOSED ASHTON GATE DEVELOPMENT

In the planning application 09/03208/P for a food store at Ashton Gate, Bristol City Council are identified as holding the freehold title of part of the land proposed to be redeveloped; namely the car park between the stadium itself and Winterstoke Road – without this Council owned land the proposed retail development would appear to be unviable.

Q1 Can you confirm that this land is currently in council ownership?

A1 The council does own the car park as identified. It is let to BCFC on a 125 year lease whch commenced in 1985.

Q2 Has a valuation been placed upon this land by Bristol City Council in the event of it being sold for redevelopment?

A2 No valuation has been placed on this land at present as this is dependent upon any successful planning application for a change of use.

Q3 Will the valuation of the site be significantly greater with planning permission for a supermarket than for alternative uses, (e.g. housing and leisure)?

A3 Actual valuations will be dependent upon the particular design solutions, however, it would be anticipated that a planning approval for a supermarket would be at the higher end of any valuations.

Q4 Does Bristol City Council intend to consult directly with local residents regarding the future use of this land prior to the 5th November when planning application 09/03208/P is scheduled to be determined?

A4 It is not intended to hold a public consultation on the future of this land. There has been considerable discussion and consultation over the development as a whole where individuals have had many opportunities to express their views.

PQ5 MR R NORRIS TO ASK COUNCILLOR S COOK, DEPUTY LEADER AND CABINET MEMBER FOR CULTURE, SPORT AND CAPITAL PROJECTS

PROPOSED ASHTON GATE DEVELOPMENT

In the planning application 09/03208/P for a food store at Ashton Gate, Bristol City Council are identified as holding the freehold title of part of the land proposed to be redeveloped; namely the car park between the stadium itself and Winterstoke Road – without this Council owned land the proposed retail development would appear to be unviable.

Q1 What is the valuation that’s been placed upon this land by Bristol City Council in event of it being sold for redevelopment?

A1 No value has been placed on the land at present as this is dependent upon any successful planning application for change of use.

Q2 If you decline to answer question 1 on the basis of commercial interest or confidentiality then you may only do so if it is in the public’s interest. How is it in the public’s interest not to know what value you have placed on our own land?

A2 See answer to question 1

Q3 If you decline to answer question 1 on the basis that it would be a legal breach of confidence then I would like to know the following;

– Are you aware that the Lord Chancellor and the Office of Government Commerce specifically state that public authorities should not enter into these types of agreements as they go directly against the spirit of the laws of disclosure?

– When these confidentiality agreements were agreed?

– Can you supply the correspondence, minutes and emails in which these confidentiality agreements were discussed?

– The precise wording of the confidentiality agreements?

– Are you prepared to undertake that Bristol City Council will follow the advice of the Lord Chancellor and the Office of Government Commerce in future and not enter into these types of agreement?

A3 See answer to question 1.

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20 Responses to Those Ashton Gate Tesco questions in full

  1. Jon Rogers says:

    “Rogers’ hasty and unexplained retreat from supplying answers”

    Nothing hasty or unexplained.

    My Executive Portfolio covers planning. Simon Cook’s Executive Portfolio covers capital projects. Land sales come under “capital projects” and not “planning” so the original officer allocation of the questions to me was incorrect.

    As has been repeatedly pointed out, “land sales” and “planning” are two entirely separate issues.

  2. Jon Rogers says:

    “The other unanswered question is why were two of the Tesco questioners – Norris and Dyer – refused the opportunity … to ask … further questions?”

    Sorry to undermine another conspiracy theory, but it may be as prosaic as the time limit on public petitions, statements and questions is 30 minutes. After 2 petitions, 9 statements and 3 earlier questions I understand that the council ran out of time.

    You can ask your supplementary questions in writing or email, or submit to Cabinet for 1st October or at next Full Council.

    The deadline for receipt of Cabinet questions is “at least 3 clear working days prior to the meeting”.

  3. thebristolblogger says:

    Jon,

    could you tell us how many times over the last 2 years residents have been refused the right – for whatever reason – to ask questions at Full Council?

    I’m willing to bet it’s once – on Tuesday night.

    I’ll take any non-reply as an affirmative.

  4. Ben says:

    So despite their brevity and lack of actual content, there’s your stitch-up right there, in those answers –

    “No value has been placed on the land at present as this is dependent upon any successful planning application for change of use.”

    So whatever value Tesco offer it will sound impressive, as there is no other current figure for comparison.

    “Where the benefits of the disposal taking into account all factors including the wider benefits to the city as a whole are seen as positive.”

    Very careful use of the words ‘…city as a whole…”‘ there, for two reasons: i – foreshadows being able to sideline objections from residents in the immediate locality, and ii – sets up the “How can the city turn down £4m in these troubled times? That’s X number of care-workers” argument.

    How disappointing.

  5. Jon Rogers says:

    “could you tell us how many times over the last 2 years residents have been refused the right – for whatever reason – to ask questions at Full Council?”

    It is my impression that it happens quite often. Indeed we sometimes don’t even get to public questions, if there are a lot of statements.

    I guess someone with time on their hands could go back and look at recent Full Council videos and compare with the published agenda.

    The Full Council has previously agreed to give time for public petitions, statements and questions up front on agenda and leave councillor statements and questions to the end of the meeting.

    Jon

  6. Charlie Bolton says:

    Have to agree with Jon on this one – it does happen quite a bit that time runs out for questions from the public. Time only gets extended if someone asks for it, and the council agrees.

    I do regret not having asked for an extension of time myself, just a bit slow witted.

    I’d submit the follow up questions to the cabinet meeting if I were you.

  7. Harry Tuttle says:

    I am angry first that BCC gave an unnecessarily long lease of this land at obscenely low cost. The current situation, where it appears that the remaining title to the land would be given away or sold cheaply to Tesco, is beyond belief.

    BCCs reason for its vociferous defence of all the Town Green applications is that it cannot voluntatrily allow Town Green status on land as it would reduce the value of the land and this was not in the people’s interest.

    Where the person asking is Corporate rather than a real citizen, it seems that BCC has an entirely different attitude.

    BCC exists solely to serve the ratepayers of this city. In whose name and for whose purpose does this council think it is acting ??

  8. Tom Griffin says:

    I was confused by the contradiction in the answers I got regarding public consultation.

    The initial answer was that there had been sufficient consultation. When I pointed out that residents, community groups and even planning officers have stated the consultation was “poor” and that the representation of the results is misleading at best, the reply was simply “we don’t need to consult and don’t intend to”.

    Consultation about the disposal of this public asset is a completely separate issue to the planing application. The council and community have a change to choose what goes there. We hold all the cards and my feelings are that no one is brave enough to allow the public a say because they might give the wrong answer.

  9. inks says:

    It’s great that council decisions are being examined, questioned and scrutinised by the public. We’ve got to hold local politicians to account.

    In respect of the car park I don’t get the issue.

    The development of a big supermarket, particular Tesco, is always going to be controversial. The development of a football stadium on a greenfield site intruding onto the greenbelt is also going to be controversial. Really I don’t think either are a good idea but I might be wrong.

    However, the issue of the car park seems neither here nor there.

    It hasn’t been valued by the council, they’ll do that once they know the outcome of the planning decision. That seems sensible. They’ll employ an independent valuer then and negotiate (or not) a package with Tesco.

    They could refuse to sell the site to Tesco and scupper the whole deal. But why would the council decide to do that as long as Tesco offer the right price? The council leadership clearly wants the new stadium to go ahead.

    The planning decision seems to be appropriately separated out from other decisions.

    I can’t see the smoking gun here.

  10. thebristolblogger says:

    It is my impression that it happens quite often

    Have to agree with Jon on this one

    Nice mutual backscratch here boys. Jon has an “impression” and Charlie has to agree.

    What’s it they say about politicians creating solidity from pure wind?

    What fascinates me is that if we include your overpaid “strategic leaders” into the equation we spend at least £5m a year in wages, expenses, admin etc for you lot to run the council and you don’t even have accurate records of your own meetings to refer to?

    This is all of piece isn’t it? Park land sold on the quiet over the telephone without notes or minutes; valuable land not being priced; private meetings and deals with developers; communities not consulted or ignored or both; £100m lies in the local paper; promises from 3 months ago ditched etc. etc.

    If you were running a business you’d be considered fraudsters.

  11. Jon Rogers says:

    Your crock runneth over BB.

    Why should the council formally record when supplementary questions are NOT asked? Can I point out that the proceedings are webcast, available on-line verbatim, or as minuted extracts, people can ask again, they can get written answers, they can raise questions at loads of meetings, etc, etc?

    Any business that was that anal would be bankrupt in a year.

  12. thebristolblogger says:

    Inks,

    the issues are a little more technically complex than the way you have stated them.

    The argument that “the planning decision seems to be appropriately separated out from other decisions” is certainly novel.

    Until Tuesday evening the council had not even acknowledged that they owned any land on the site.

    Their line all along has been that the decision, and I’m quoting Simon Cook here, would be a “quasi judicial decision” from a planning committee on planning issues.

    There was absolutely no separation of the land sale issue from the planning process until the public, campaigners and bloggers forced them to do this.

    My view is that the council would have happily kept the land ownership a secret right through the planning process if they had been able to and then sold the land quietly at a suitably good time to bury bad news.

    On the issue of valuing the land:

    1. The development in planning terms is an “enabling development”. This is a specific type of development in law that applies for planning permission on the basis that it will bring a certain level of disbenefit with it.

    However, this disbenefit will be outweighed by the financial benefits from the development that can be reinvested into a project that will bring significant public benefits.

    The problem here is that in order for the planning committee to take a decision, which must be in a large part based on the financial benefits of the scheme, they need to know how much the development is going to make.

    It is impossible to know this without knowing the value of the land the football club need to buy from BCC.

    For instance, the BCFC Chief Exec, Colin Sexstone has said the site is worth £20m, but the benefit of the development won’t be that as they have to pay for BCC’s land, which is worth at least a fifth of that. Possibly more. Who knows? Not the planning committee taking the decision that’s for sure.

    2. The Lib Dems, on this blog and elsewhere, have been pushing the line that they are seriously investigating other options such as housing or mixed use for the site.

    But the main asset available to them to fund such schemes is the piece of land that they own on the site.

    If they have not even valued the land, it’s hard to believe there’s any realistic effort going on to investigate other options.

  13. inks says:

    “My view is that the council would have happily kept the land ownership a secret right through the planning process if they had been able to and then sold the land quietly at a suitably good time to bury bad news.”

    So no-one knew BCC has a dog in the race and you’re making the reasonable assumption the council liked it that way rather than it being accidental.

    And accidental or not it’s going to pee off the anti-supermarket / stadium lobby because they didn’t have the full picture of what they were arguing against.

    Ok, I think I’ve got it that far.

    “However, this disbenefit will be outweighed by the financial benefits from the development that can be reinvested into a project that will bring significant public benefits.”

    Whoever owns the land the counter to the disbenefit – on which the planning decision is made – will be the same though I’d have thought.

    Ah – is this the problem:
    – the supermarket development is a ‘disbenefit’
    – the counter to the disbenefit is it funds the stadium development
    – without knowing how much Bristol City / Tesco will have to pay for the car park it’s not clear how large the counter to the disbenefit is
    – without knowing how large the counter is the planning decision can’t be fairly made

    Sorry if I’m being thick here but isn’t it the amount Tesco pays Bristol City for the land it does own the important thing, rather than the amount it pays BCC for the car park?

    “If they have not even valued the land, it’s hard to believe there’s any realistic effort going on to investigate other options.”

    That has a certain ring of truth to it.

  14. thebristolblogger says:

    Sorry if I’m being thick here but isn’t it the amount Tesco pays Bristol City for the land it does own the important thing, rather than the amount it pays BCC for the car park?

    BCC are not selling to Tesco but to Ashton Gate Ltd. – the company that owns BCFC’s s current stadium and land (their chief assets), This is an interesting vehicle in itself that we’re probably take a closer look at when we look at land ownership and assembly on the site of the new stadium.

    But without the BCC land, the amount Tesco pays Ashton Gate Ltd for the land it does own on the site is actually zero.

    Their land has no retail value because BCC owns the vehicle access to the site and Ashton Gate Ltd have a stranded asset that only has a residential/mixed use value of about £3m – £4m.

    BCFC’s Sexstone says the entire piece of land (including the BCC land) has a retail land value of £20m. That means the BCC land is worth in the region of £16m!

    If you or I owned that car park we might not get £16m for it but you would certainly be seeking a price of £10m – £15m wouldn’t you? Especially if someone had gone to the trouble of getting planning permission for retail on it …

    The other alternative, of course, would be for the owner of the strategic land asset to buy the stranded asset at a knock-down price (£2m?) and sell the land themselves to Tesco or explore residential/mixed use on the site having paid a rock bottom price.

    Either way Ashton gate Ltd are fucked.

    This is why the value of the BCC land is crucial. It also puts BCC in a quandary. They are constitutionally obliged to seek out best value for us, which means most of the money raised by Ashton Gate Ltd from Tesco should go to us. We own the key asset not them.

  15. inks says:

    I get your point, TBB, although there’s a flaw in your valuation technique big enough to drive a whole convoy of eager world cup fans through.

    For example, if the value of the whole site is £20 million. What’s the value of the car park without the stranded land? Say… £5 million?

    If BCC is looking to aquire the stranded land and then sell the whole site to Tesco, why should Ashton Gate sell their land to BCC for less than £15 million?

    I have no idea what valuation involves but it’s not as simplistic as you’re portraying – which I think you know really.

    The existing lease will also affect the valuation, it’s not as if BCC can sell the car park on the free market for much while Ashton Gate have 100 years to run on their distinctly cheap lease.

    It’ll come down to messy haggling but I understand your concern that BCC may not realise the full value as a backdoor subsidy.

  16. chris hutt says:

    BB “Their land has no retail value because BCC owns the vehicle access to the site and Ashton Gate Ltd have a stranded asset that only has a residential/mixed use value of about £3m – £4m. ”

    This is spot on. BCFC’s land only has limited highway access from Ashton Road which could not accommodate the traffic volumes generated by a large supermarket because Ashton Road’s junction with Winterstoke Road could not cope.

    The much higher value development as a car orientated supermarket depends absolutely on the BCC land that has the existing roundabout access from Winterstoke Road.

    It follows that the BCC land is worth a lot more than its share of the overall area (18%?) would indicate. I would guess the £10 million figure is about right, allowing both parties to double their respective land values by combining their assetts.

    BCC have a responsibility to secure the maximum value when selling our assetts to the private sector. If they sell the land for less than the maximum realisable value then they are in effect giving public money, our money, to the land owner.

    Some may argue that the Council should give public money to support the Stadium plan, but if so it must be above board and not done in an underhand way by selling land below market value.

  17. Interestingly not only does BCC own a key bit of land on the current site, it owns a piece of the land “needed” for the new stadium too – just to the north east of the proposed new pitch. About half the houses for the associated development are put on it.

    It is plain to see on the masterplan on the planning application and on the BCC pinpoint map.

    If BCC really wants the new stadium then they should make it clear just how far they are prepared to support it – are they subsidising the development by selling off more land at a knock down price???

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  19. The point about the value of the land is this.

    Any sale of council land above £500,000 has to be agreed by the cabinet. i.e. it is a political decision

    Yet, in two separate interviews, Simon Cook told me the Tesco issue would be done purely on planning grounds.

    The problem of a valuation of the land therefore is that it makes a very grey area out of whether the Tesco decision really will be made on planning grounds or whether it is a political decision.

    If it’s done purely on planning grounds, the argument presumably runs that we shouldn’t legitimately take it out on the politicians at the ballot box if we don’t like it. But if we don’t like a political decision… well, that’s different.

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