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Councillors want the truth about William Hunter Way development

By Brentwood Gazette  |  Posted: December 07, 2012

By Piers Meyler

  • come clean: councillors want to know the truth about the deal

  • drama: The debacle could be a remake of A Few Good Men, with Louise McKinlay as Jack Nicholson and Russell Quirk as Tom Cruise Cartoon by Alex Leys

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AN ALLIANCE of 13 councillors is demanding the truth about the William Hunter Way development – but getting little information from the council.

The rainbow coalition of councillors from across the political spectrum, says Brentwood Borough Council is acting outside its authority to push ahead with the development.

The 13 councillors have joined forces to press the council leadership to "come clean" over the deal to bring a retail complex, multi-storey car park and cinema to the council-owned William Hunter Way.

Since an Extraordinary General Meeting at the town hall, on November 26, opposition members, bolstered by Tory councillors, have dismissed claims from the administration that the council is tied in to the deal with developer Stockland until 2013.

They insist that this Friday the deal signed in 2007 expires and the council is free to begin discussions with other parties.

Specifically, they want to know why an amendment to extend the life of the deal until 2013 was agreed outside the full council chamber in December 2011, when the council itself has said only a majority agreement by full council can make changes to the Principle Agreement.

It was in October 2011 that the full council voted to extend the life of the deal by 12 months, which the group says only locks in Brentwood for two more days.

The row comes after separate concerns that Brentwood council is being asked to accept reduced levels of rent from Stockland and that car parking charges at the multi-storey car park may cost more than elsewhere in the borough.

Russell Quirk, whose Freedom of Information response into the project consisted of 425 pages of entirely redacted documentation, poured scorn on his fellow Tory colleagues.

He said: "It's about time that some councillors woke up to the appalling and detrimental way that the William Hunter Way project has been handled latterly.

"Put blinkers aside and start standing up for their residents, with some independence of mind for once.

"One can only wonder why the council's leadership have gone to such lengths to ensure that a deal is done with Stockland at any cost? No tender process, no effort to market test to ensure best value.

"This debacle is totally unacceptable and there remain more questions unanswered over this farce.

"Brentwood wants a cinema. But not if the scheme costs us all dearly and is done without the proper scrutiny and transparency that we all have a right to expect from our elected members."

A source inside the council has suggested that the supplemental agreement, signed by employees of Stockland, the chief legal officer at Brentwood Council and the mayor, in December 2011, had not been placed in the Register of Seal, which is where mayoral documents usually go. The council has yet to confirm or deny this.

Mike Le Surf, Labour Group leader, also claims that the council was operating outside its authority.

"What has really got me is that Louise McKinlay has ordered her own side like whipped sheep and it has been left to us to find out.

"We should be allowed to walk away from this. The council have amended the original agreement and by doing so they have conjured up a year.

"They have changed the documentation of the development agreement and now it's in the open, it does not stand up to scrutiny.

"How can two members of the developers, the legal officer and the mayor sign this agreement to alter the development agreement when only the full council should have been able to do that?

"We didn't agree to change the principle agreement. We agreed to extend the long-stop date by 12 months.

"We need independent council advice and if we are not given that, we will go to the ombudsman. I've lost all faith in the administration."

A Brentwood Borough Council spokesman referred the Gazette to a previous statement that said: "The original Development Agreement in 2007 provided for the Long-stop Date to be 36 months after the date of the agreement (ie 2010), with a proviso that in certain circumstances (including the 60 per cent pre-let threshold not yet being met), the date would roll on a further 12 months to the fourth anniversary of the date of the agreement (ie 2011).

"The Supplemental Deed in 2011 varied the definition of the Long-stop Date to be dated 60 months after the date of the agreement (ie 2012); which was the 12 month extension approved by the council.

"However, the proviso in the original Development Agreement still applies and so the Supplemental Deed also amended the proviso so that it would take effect to extend the ultimate long-stop date to the sixth anniversary (ie 2013).

"External lawyers have verified that this is the case.

"Both the council and the developer have been working extremely hard to ensure that the Development Agreement becomes unconditional by this date (or sooner) and is capable of implementation. This remains the target."

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