A Garden Centre in the Alver Valley has been approved

At the recent Economic Development board it was agreed to lease 5.7 acres of land for use as a garden centre, contracts between the council and the operator due to be signed at the end of September, with a start date in March 2020 and completion by the year-end. This new facility, creating upwards of 50 new jobs, would incorporate facilities including WC's, café and parking that would also be used by visitors to the adjacent Alver Valley Country Park and provide a substantial proportion of the amenities required for the Grange Farm Gateway into the Alver Valley Country Park. 

Precis of the report that went to the Economic Development Board.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT BOARD Date of Meeting: 18TH SEPTEMBER 2019 Title: LAND AT GRANGE FARM, ROWNER FOR GARDEN CENTRE DEVELOPMENT & GATEWAY 

 At the Economic Development Board on 19th September 2018 the Board accepted the recommendations of the Report ie 

The long leasehold disposal of the Gosport Borough Council land shown edged red on the plan at Appendix A to the report together with rights of access, services etc for a term of 99 years and subject to the conditions set out in the report.

Following the completion of open marketing, to authorise the Deputy Chief Executive in consultation with Economic Development Board Chairman to finalise the terms of a new Development Agreement, Agreement for Lease and Lease of the above, complete the disposal and on completion, report back and update the Board. 

The detail of the September 2018 report confirmed that the recommendation was to dispose of approx 5 acres of land at Home Heath, Grange Farm, to kick-start the development of a new retail garden centre by a garden centre operating company. The new garden centre would incorporate facilities eg WC's, café and parking etc that would also be used by visitors to the adjacent Alver Valley Country Park and thus provide a substantial proportion of the amenities required for the Grange Farm Gateway into the Alver Valley Country Park. 

RECOMMENDATION This report is supplemental to the report dated 19th September 2018 and recommends that the Economic Development Board agree: 

1. The long leasehold disposal of approx. 5.70 acres of land in lieu of the approx 5 acres recommended for disposal at the September 2018 Report 

2. To authorise the Chief Executive Officer to enter into a Deed of Variation with the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO), to vary the wording of the existing restrictive covenant affecting the site to permit the site to be used as a retail garden centre and Gateway into the Alver Valley Country Park. 

The Report to the Economic Development Board report on 19th September 2018 sets out the background content. The Council's various inter-related and abutting property matters at Grange Farm continue to move forward and complete with a formal Lease now granted to C17th Village and the Rowner Regeneration Scheme Phase 1B residential development and new access road into the site substantially built and on programme for completion at the end of January 2020. As a result of the marketing of the garden centre opportunity it was identified that operators would require slightly more land for the garden centre than that approved for disposal at the September 2018 Economic Development Board. This slightly greater area is approx. 5.7 acres  

The Council's preference was to dispose of the site on a long leasehold basis. The Council's only capital cost is the provision of an adequate power supply to the site, the cost of which has already been budgeted. Bearing in mind the garden centre operating company will bear all other design and construction costs together with all operating costs going forward, the Council's external valuer recommended that the Council seek an annual rent of £10,000 pa with 5 yearly rent reviews for a term of 99 years OR if greater in any year, 2% of the annual turnover. 

The cost of all repairs going forward is the responsibility of the garden centre operating company. There will be no recurring Landlord's costs under the lease. 

The preceding terms were set out in the marketing particulars and are now agreed with the prospective garden centre operating company.

The Council's Planning team have been involved in discussions and meetings at all stages and are supportive in principle of the enlarged garden centre proposal arising from the change in land area. 

Solicitors for the Council and the selected garden centre operating company are finalising appropriate legal documentation for the development and grant of the new Lease to the tenant. It is anticipated that contracts will be exchanged by the end of September 2019. 

The timescale for the pre-construction element of the development process set out in the original 2018 report has changed slightly due in part to the garden centre operator's preferred timescale. However, subject to the grant of planning permission it is still intended that the construction works will commence on site in March 2020, shortly after the completion of the access road by Taylor Wimpey. No construction traffic will be permitted to use Little Woodham Lane during the construction of the garden centre which is programmed for completion in Feb 2021. 

The Head of Streetscene and the Council's Countryside Team have been involved at all stages and are aware of the revised land arrangements. There continues to be no impact on the Countryside Team's continued use of the old farm courtyard buildings and their access to the Councils retained land at Grange Farm. In addition to progressing the disposal arrangements, the Council have also been in discussion with the DIO for some months to vary the wording of the restrictive covenant affecting the site. This variation is key to the use of the site as a garden centre. Whilst in the DIO have always indicated their agreement to co-operate, negotiation has been necessary to achieve this.

Following formal valuation, terms are now agreed and in consideration of the payment of £10,000 to the DIO, the covenant will be varied to permit the garden centre (& Gateway) uses as we require. This sum has already been set aside in the Council's budget for the realisation of this development. 

Risk Assessment 

The Council are asked to sell the long leasehold interest (99 yrs) in the land outlined red on the plan at Appendix A of this report. This will be at the open market value. The land to be released is designated in the Local Plan as mainly public open space however a large part is unmanaged and utilised only occasionally by the Council's contractors. The garden centre operating company have now engaged with the Council's Legal and Planning teams and are about to commence pre-application consultation prior to submission of the planning application. The Council's appointed Legal Team have prepared the draft Deed of Variation required to be completed with the DIO simultaneously with exchange of the Development Agreement in order to vary the permitted use of the land under the restrictive covenant. The Council's appointed Legal Team have completed a title & constraints check in respect of the garden centre site and there are no known issues which would preclude the development 

Conclusion 

The proposals contained in this report will facilitate the new, larger garden centre development and formally vary the permitted use of the site in the restrictive covenant to accord with this. 

Financial Services comments: Costs of this scheme have been fully budgeted for within the approved capital programme. An annual rental income of at least £10,000 p.a. is expected which will be reflected in future revenue budgets.

Legal Services comments: Crime & Disorder N/A Equality & Diversity N/A Service Improvement Plan implications: None Corporate Plan: The development of the Alver Valley Country Park and garden centre is a Council priority

Risk Assessment: As contained in Background papers

Report to the Economic Development Board 19th September 2018.