I mentioned in my last entry that a potentially controversial planning application was withdrawn at the last minute from the agenda of the Local Area Committee meeting on 28th February. This was an "enabling application" to raise funds to restore Dowd's Farmhouse, a grade II listed building.
The farmhouse has fallen into considerable disrepair in the decade it has been unoccupied and the security fencing and temporary weather-proofing make it a complete eyesore. Hedge End doesn't have many buildings of historical interest, so we don't want to lose one. However, the current owners - a nationwide building firm with millions in the bank and land holdings worth billions - have a problem in that the costs of restoration are now greater than the expected value of the restored building. Their solution is to build another three blocks of flats at Dowd's Farm and use the "developer's contributions" from this new development to make their sums add up.
Developers' contributions are often viewed with suspicion by opponents of developments, but they are a valuable way for the Council to fund highway improvements, social housing and recreational and other facilities to reduce the negative impact of the development. The question in this case is one of priorities - is preserving a historical building more important than the other things that the money could be spent on?
It was clear that the Lib Dem leadership wanted the application to go through on the nod, but I had some questions that I felt needed to be answered - not least because the figures quoted in the 28th February report gave the impression that the developer's contributions would be underwriting a profit to the developer of £200,000. This seemed a bit of a cheek to me. In addition to the profits they have made on the existing Dowd's Farm development and the profits they will make on the 30 new proposed flats, they wanted the Council to underwrite a profit on the farm house restoration itself.
As all the financial information to answer my concerns was not available for the February meeting the application was withdrawn and we expect it will be re-submitted in April with new figures and controls on the use of developer's contributions. We don't want the farmhouse to fall down, but we have a duty to make sure that the development and the scheme to save the farmhouse are the best possible deal for the people of Hedge End.