William Hunter Way – Doing What’s Best For Brentwood

I have today announced that the Council will be terminating the William Hunter Way deal with the developer, Stockland.

The decision has been taken for one reason alone: Continuing was not in Brentwood’s best interests and I will explain why.

Over the last 2 years, extensive negotiations have taken place between the Council and Stockland to renegotiate parts of the original agreement, following the downturn in the economy, which had an impact on the deliverability of the deal from a commercial standpoint.

We have received independent professional and legal advice at each step to ensure we are operating within the law, in line with our contractual obligations and whilst minimising the exposure of Brentwood to the threat of litigation costs based on a test of “acting reasonably.” I stress this for important reasons, which I will come on to later.

This approach has safe guarded Brentwood’s position and has led to a revised deal between the Council and Stockland, primarily in terms of the guaranteed ground rent and income levels to the Council.

Had negotiations not been conducted in a “reasonable” way, we would have left the Council open to a significant risk of litigation at a potential cost of millions.

In addition, contrary to claims made by Lib Dem and opposition Councillors, opening discussions with any other interested developer would have seriously compromised the Council’s position.

This isn’t me saying this, it is the professional advice that we have received and the same advice that the opposition have been calling on us to ride rough shod over and ignore.

Now don’t get me wrong, I have shared their frustrations over the last few months. However, frustration should not lead to recklessness and irresponsibility, which is exactly what their calls to simply “walk away” were.

So given the above, what has changed and why can we now terminate the deal? Well, the Full Council decision last December gave a deadline of the 31st January 2014 to conclude the heads of terms and to include penalty clauses (these were omitting from the original deal)

Whilst penalty clauses were accepted and figures agreed, Stockland also requested that RPI (inflation) linked to the ground rent be removed from the agreement.

Without such an anchor, the £225k annual ground rent would in effect diminish over time. Linking it to inflationary increases is, I’m sure you’d agree, a basic and reasonable request, especially as the lease was for 150 years! The true value of that income must clearly be protected for years to come.

However, its inclusion, makes the deal unviable for Stockland and from our perspective, signing up the Council to a further change in the original deal that would have such a detrimental impact for generations to come, was not acceptable. Again, our independent professional advice, both legal and commercial, supports this position and based on the situation has deemed that we are acting “reasonably” to insist RPI remains in the contract, opening the way for us to terminate the deal without it.

So, we had a deal, we could have signed it and frankly, it would have been the easy thing to do but as I have always said, I will not sign Brentwood up for a deal that is not in our interests. Yes, the process has been protracted and frustrating but I stand by the final decision and the approach taken – we have protected the public purse, worked within the constraints of the current legal arrangements to deliver a commercially viable deal and mitigated costs to Brentwood taxpayers and therefore without doubt, done the right thing by our residents.

So what happens now? We are still committed to delivering a cinema for Brentwood but via a deal that is good for our Town. I will be bringing a paper forward to councillors in a few weeks time in order to move the project forward and I can guarantee that it will be subject to full and open procurement. Securing the best deal for Brentwood is paramount and that opportunity is now here.

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William Hunter Way – Facts and FAQs

There have been a few questions, which have come my way about the WHW development.
Please see the following link for FAQs which will explain the situation in terms of where we are at in some detail.

Ultimately, it is about doing what is in Brentwood’s best interest and not jeopardising taxpayers’ money. I firmly believe that the delivery of a cinema will be good for the Borough and will continue to see the process through due diligence and within the parameters of the legally binding contract. Indeed, to do anything else would be a dereliction of duty to Brentwood residents.

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Thank You!

Well it’s been a while since I wrote a blog entry, over two months in fact, but what a time it has been!

For those unaware, I gave birth to my my first child; a son back in August, and since then, my deputy, Roger Hirst has been at the helm, whilst I’ve taken some time out.

Having now returned, I’d like to thank him, the rest of the Conservative group and all of the staff at the Council for their support and effort over the last few weeks.

I’d also like to say a big thanks to everyone who has sent me their best wishes, cards and presents. Motherhood is an amazing experience and one which is so very precious.

My heartfelt appreciation to all the staff at Basildon Hospital for the care and attention they gave my son and me. The hospital has been in the press a lot recently, for far from positive reasons but they certainly exceeded my expectations in the professional care that we received. The staff on both the maternity ward and in neo-natal intensive care were simply amazing. Thank you to the everyone who helped to look after us.

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Summary of my Meeting with the CEO of Basildon Hospital

We all want the best care for ourselves and our families, especially when we are ill. Some of you have raised concerns with me about the recently published Keogh Report into the quality of care and treatment at a number of underperforming hospitals, including Basildon Hospital.

When the details were shared, I promised to find out more and report back once I had more information.

At my request, I arranged to discuss the findings with Claire Panniker, CEO of Basildon Hospital. She assured me that all the points raised in the Keogh Report were already fully acknowledged by the Hospital and that action is taking place to improve matters.

The salient points raised were as follows:

1. Bed Capacity – This will be increased through a new ward opening this winter providing 28 additional beds. A additional 14 beds are being created in other vacant ward space. In the short term, arrangements will continue with Brentwood Community Hospital to provide extra beds as well.

2. Nursing Capacity – An extra £1.8million is being invested in nursing staff with 200 additional nursing positions, of which 157 are already appointed.

3. Patient Involvement – This is being improved with new procedures and a new senior nurse leading PALS – the Patient Advisory and Liaison Service.

4. Hygiene – Good hygiene practices by medical and other staff are being strictly enforced although infection rates are already low at the Hospital.

The CEO has also chosen to put in place from October a new clinically-led management team so that medical professionals are at the very forefront of running the Hospital. This in my opinion, must be the way forward and is something, which I greatly welcome.

I will be keeping in contact with the CEO of the Hospital to see how these actions are contributing to the high quality local health care service we all want and expect.

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Casework Comment – The Fuller Picture

Some figures on “casework” by each councillor have been shared this week, with lots of opposition members back slapping each other for the amount of work they do, whilst of course, continuing their joint venture against the Administration, decrying Conservative members for apparently not doing any.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are a number of councillors, cross party who work very hard for Brentwood and for their own residents specifically. We may have different views on what we deem the best thing to do but ultimately, the motivation is generally right and best intended and I wouldn’t criticise efforts unfairly, just because we have different opinions.

There are of course, exceptions to this with some councillors driven by personal grudges against others, leading to twisted and bitter statements and attacks, along with misguided spinning of so called facts but anyway…

Since the figures were shared, I have done some homework of my own as they just didn’t quite ring true in reality…

So, what did I find?

Well, let me start by explaining what “members casework” is about. It is a system set up some time ago to allow councillors to log ward based queries to council officers and track the reply, length of time for a response etc.

There’s no “obligation” to use it, although I think it is a good system and one which personally, I do use for Hutton North matters that are brought to me by residents, as their councillor, or which I see need attending to.

What I don’t use it for is for is to deal with queries or correspondence relating to my role as Council Leader or Group Leader, or administration matters such as setting up meetings or for non Brentwood Borough Council affairs. The same however, cannot be said for others.

So, faced with this fresh round of “backslapping anyone but a Conservative councillor” I asked for a breakdown of the numbers and they’re quite different to those shared earlier in the week.

Knocked off the top spot is William Lloyd as out of his apparent 155 queries, just 34 relate to ward casework matters, according to Council officers. The rest are either due to his roles as Group Leader or admin correspondence. Now I’m not knocking his efforts just pointing out some of the spin given to these “figures” by others… :-) The same can be said across the board. When you look at the breakdown, they actually tell a very different story.

Furthermore, there are indeed other ways in which councillors raise and deal with casework: They can come in to meet with officers, phone in, call the relevant Chairman or myself, discuss with ward colleagues etc. So, these numbers really shouldn’t be taken as reflection on the total work done anyway.

The real test is surely getting the issue resolved for residents, not racking up numbers on some sort of apparent “Councillor of the Year” scoreboard. I know a number of my group and I dare say, councillors from others parties too, call in to the Town Hall and get issues resolved in other ways. In fact, i know they do as I see them! Wards are also very different and some are busier than others in terms of the amount of casework, so councillors’ workloads will vary.

Finally, the role of a councillor involves so much more than just casework, especially for the Conservatives in Adminstration. That isn’t a party political comment, just fact for those in senior positions, running the Council will obviously be tasked with doing much more.

Formulating policy is key and takes up a huge amount of time, being advocates for the Borough and specific local areas, working with Parish Councils and Residents’ Associations, supporting local causes and championing efforts of others in Brentwood and dealing with budget setting and service provision are all part of the role, depending on exactly what the individual’s responsibility is.

As Leader of the Council, I get to see just how much effort goes in by people across the parties and I can tell you that the vast majority are hugely committed to what they do without any distorted figures clouding the perception.

Ultimately, the test should be whether the councillor is effectively dealing with a problem and representing residents, not the where they come on the casework scoreboard.

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William Hunter Way: Latest Update

Couple of updates on the long awaited William Hunter Way development.

Firstly, an application has been received by the Council for the renewal of the William Hunter Way planning permission, which expires in September.

Along with fellow Conservatives, I have called for an Extraordinary Council Meeting to discuss the application, rather than just have the planning committee review the matter.

There is a consultation process that needs to take place first but once this has been carried out, all members of the Council will have an opportunity to debate the application and vote on it. For such an important scheme, it is vital that this happens and we have ensured that it will.

Secondly, Stockland, the developer for the site has confirmed that they are in final stage negotiations with TK Maxx to come to Brentwood as part of the William Hunter Way development. They would be a fantastic addition to the current retail offer in Town and would I believe, be a popular arrival.

There’s more to do and ultimately, all of the details regarding the scheme will come back to Full Council for review by all councillors but this is a good indication from Stockland of how they are progressing.

We are legally locked in to an agreement with Stockland until December 2013. Despite clear legal advice, some opposition councillors have allowed their own arrogance to continue to claim that the Council could have walked away in December last year. ( Those individuals apparently know better..!) However, this simply is not true and it is surprising they would want to see the scheme fail ( especially given their previous support for it!)

To be clear, the Conservative Administration is committed in its support for the scheme. A strong addition to the retail offer in Brentwood, financial investment in our future, the creation of hundreds of new jobs and the delivery of a cinema would be great news for our Town and we will continue to back Stockland in their efforts.

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Shenfield Parking Proposals: Survey Update

So far we’ve had a great response to our survey regarding our parking proposals in Shenfield to tackle the effects of Crossrail.

I spent some time yesterday reading the responses that we have so far received. Thank you to those who have sent the paper surveys back to let us know your thoughts. We’re collating them all and will be in touch again shortly.

We want to see Shenfield continue to thrive and remain a hub of activity and we believe the plans will go some way to achieving that.

There is more work to do and parking is only one part of the solution to ensure we mitigate the negative impact during construction of the project and that we maximise opportunities once Crossrail is here. We are pushing Crossrail to provide full details of all of their plans, not just those relating to parking and a meeting is scheduled for later this month.

Please do take a minute to go on line and complete our survey so you can let us know what you think.

http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/DLXHXBJ

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UK Power Network Substation Update

I recently wrote to UK Power Network about the state of the substation in Queenswood Avenue, near the footpath to the Wash Road Industrial Estate in Talon Road, asking them to tidy it up, remove the graffiti and replace the broken fence.

It is disappointing they have allowed it to get in to such a state but credit where it’s due: Within a few days of writing to them, I had a response apologising for the lack of attention to the site and a promise to act.

I’m informed that the broken fence will be replaced as soon as the tender for the work has been carried out and that the graffiti will be removed and the grass cut back.

I will keep my eye on the progress and I hope they will be true to their word. It was certainly a fast response and so it does bode well.

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Setting The Record Straight On MD Pay

Lots of noise this week about senior pay at the Council, which has led to misleading statements from the opposition and internet trolls, so I thought I’d set the record straight.

Let’s start with some facts…(seems a good place to begin!)

In April 2012, Brentwood Council ceased the CEO partnership arrangements with Essex County Council.

The set up had been in place since 2007 at a cost to Brentwood taxpayers of £30k per year for the services of the CEO. When first introduced, it was pioneering in the country and delivered a huge saving compared to the cost of Brentwood having its own CEO. A great initiative, which is now common place across the Country with many districts sharing senior management and making substantial savings along the way.

Fast forward to April 2012 and Brentwood decided to take this one step further and abolish the post of CEO altogether.

Our Managing Director, who already worked under the CEO, took on the components of the Chief Exec’s role, along with the extra responsibilities of being the most senior officer at the Council.

A full review of like for like pay and conditions was carried out, in comparison to other authorities. Changes made, gave the MD a £5k basic pay rise and a £5k potential increase in performance related pay to reflect the extra responsibility and effective promotion, providing Brentwood with the second cheapest senior officer arrangement in the county. Only Maldon Council pays less than Brentwood and the decision to make the MD the most senior officer and not have a CEO, delivered an extra overall saving of c £20k.

To be clear, the comparison of costs was as follows:

CEO: 2011/12: £30,000 ( paid to ECC for services of the Chief Exec)
MD: 2011/12 salary £97,000 plus maximum of £10,000 Performance Related Pay based on delivery of objectives.

NB: £7k of the maximum of £10k was paid for the PRP. This is contractually based on delivery, not desire to pay and reflects a move away from higher salaries regardless of performance and a shift towards rewarding success. It is not a discretionary bonus but part of a pay structure, the final paid figure of which, must be substantiated.

2012/13:

CEO: £0 ( end of shared arrangements)
MD: salary £102,000 plus maximum of £15,000 PRP based on delivery of objectives ( reflects additional responsibilities taken on from CEO)

NB: £13,800 of the maximum of £15k was paid for the PRP. Again, this is contractually based on delivery, not desire to pay. It is not a discretionary bonus but part of a pay structure, the final paid figure which, was considered by an independent panel and which must be substantiated.

With pension and add ons, the total cost of the MD in 2011/12 was £118,241 with £30k paid for CEO so a total of £148,241. With the changes to the senior staffing arrangements coming in in April 2012, the decision on the final 2011/12 PRP of £7k was not made until after 31st March, meaning the figure was not included in the 2011/12 year end accounts and why it specifically says in the 2012/13 statement of accounts that it was paid in 2012/13. Indeed, a figure cannot be included if it has not yet been decided!

This compares to an overall cost of £130,641 for the MD in 2012/13 and no charge for a CEO, reflecting the change in roles and decision not to have both a CEO and MD as outlined above.

Whilst opposition members will try and spin it, the reality is that the changes in the arrangements following the decision to no longer share a CEO, saves Brentwood residents c£20k pa.

Furthermore, this was all reported on last August and there has been no change since and no increase in 2013/14. To suggest an increase of 23% is simply wrong. The 2011/12 MD package was £118,241 plus £30k for CEO, compared to £130,641 and £0 for CEO in 2012/13.

Interestingly, both the Leaders of the Lib Dems and Brentwood First were members of the remuneration panel that put forward the proposed figure of £13,800 for the 2012/13 PRP. I don’t disagree with their recommendation but for a party or individual to be part of that process and contribute to the figure, only to criticise now is disingenuous ( if not predictable) to say the least…

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Brentwood Updates

It’s been a busy few days over the past week.

Last Friday, I had the pleasure of attending the opening of the Peter Jones Enterprise Academy in Brentwood High Street. The Centre is to operate in conjunction with Havering College and it was great to see so many people there from the business and educational communities in Brentwood and to hear from some of the students who have benefitted from similar Academies in other parts of the country.

Business and entrepreneurship are at the heart of the ambitions for the venture and I think the opportunities are endless. This is an exciting time for Brentwood and our young people and I will watch with interest on how it goes!

Last Saturday, whilst the sun failed to come out, the rain did keep away and families flocked to the Strawberry Fair on Shenfield Common. The annual event is always a delight and this year was no different – thank you to everyone who helped to make it happen and if you came along, I hope you enjoyed it!

On Monday, Brentwood’s Deputy Mayor, Mark Reed raised the flag to commemorate Armed Forces Day at the Town Hall. Members of the Royal British Legion were on parade and it was lovely to speak to some of the veterans after. Our armed forces are something we should all be proud of and it’s always an honour to be able to show respect, even in a small way.

Next week, is set to be somewhat different as I’m in Manchester for the Local Government Conference.

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