21.1.16…..Today at 4pm, Policy and Resources meets at the Brighthelm Centre in Brighton where it will ratify (in secret) a decision already taken (in secret) by the Project Board which was set up by Brighton & Hove City Council to choose a new preferred developer from those who submitted bids.
Agenda item 110 for the part of the meeting that will be held in public provides a briefing that is worth reading and perhaps keeping a copy of for future reference as things unfold. This item is at the end of the agenda, followed by Part 2 when their decision will be taken after press and public are excluded from the meeting. You can follow the meeting which is broadcast live on the council webcam and the footage will be archived for repeat viewing if you miss it today.
Looking through this 22 page document it is not easy to feel reassured.
Officers informed the 3 Project Board councillors on the 5th of January of their evaluation decision and the councillors supported it. But the developers were not told. Nor will they be told after today’s P&R ratification of that decision (as landowner). Instead they must wait for an “Alcatel” letter to be sent to them tomorrow. At a meeting with a resident Hove MP Peter Kyle is said to have told her that he had seen the plans and thinks we will all be very pleased. Should he have been so privileged?
So when do WE get to see what is proposed and who was chosen? Well, Agenda item 110 says at 1.3 “…the Committee when considering 2.5 may be able to indicate when an announcement may be made as to who, subject to the “Standstill Period” (a minimum period of 10 days from the date of the Alcatel letter) the Preferred Bidder is.” How coy is that? Wanna know what 2.5 says? It is one of the recommendations for agreement and it says “Agree that, if the committee in Part 2 approve the Evaluation Panel’s and Project Board’s recommendation as to who should be appointed Preferred Bidder, and an Alcatel letterhas been issued accordingly, an announcement as to who the Preferred Bidder is may be made at the appriate time”. Define appropriate…..? In ten days? In ten months? Ah! No. It will definitely not be 10 months. But it could be not until June if we are unlucky. Why June?
At 3.61 of Agenda item 110 we can see there is a timetable. And slotted into June 2016-end 2016 is the Planning Consultation. The planning application is due to go in early 2017 with determination by summer 2017. They assume consent as the development start date is given as mid 2017.
It all reads like the public are being boxed in. That is kind of what ended up happening last time when the Labour Administration armtwisted a seriously out of order planning consent for the Karis scheme. A dozen planning officers had signed a “back off” email about determination of the KA plans along the way and the vote of the Lib Dem from Brunswick & Adelaide on Planning secured their one vote majority (6 weeks ahead of the local election, when Labour fielded a candidate in that ward who would not win). The day after the consent at Planning, the Development Control Manager, Maggie Bryan, was no longer employed by BHCC, the West Area Manager, Ian Coomber submitted his resignation and he left 3 months later, and Luke Perkins, the case officer for 18 months, left 6 months later. A lot of damage was done to the Planning Dept. I hope both they and we are not being stitched up AGAIN.
At the end of Agenda Item 10 you can read the criteria, what BHCC decided (without asking you) that they wanted the new Leisure Centre to be about. Well, it all reads like fashionably butch sports stuff to me, with a glaring absence of public hospitality points being asked for that would be useful for people using the beach or visiting the Esplanade where large numbers like to go for walks and need somewhere nice to stop for tea, a drink, a lounge or maybe a nice lunch out in the open, facing the sea (something not possible at Marrocco, alas). A 50-covers cafe is indicated in the “enhanced” spec. Lets hope the bidders were more sensitive to public need and have a) a cafe and b) one positioned FACING and OPEN to the Esplanade.
The council’s specified criteria disvalues the sprung dancefloor, ballroom in the current KA. This is unfortunate as fashions change and maybe hardcore sweat and muscle sporting activity will not be so fashionable in 40-50 years time (if the new centre is built to last that long), or even in 10 years from now. The ballroom hosts weddings (income generator), intimate recitals and concerts (Nick Cave has done one there) and public meetings (The Starr Trust at a very early stage hosted a big meeting there to present their initial thinking and wishes for the King Alfred).
Best to not judge at this stage, perhaps. As Peter Kyle said to one resident, so Project Board cllr Robert Nemeth also said to me “I think you will be pleased”. Let’s have hope.