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Agenda item

Councillor Murray asked the Portfolio Holder for Finance and Deputy Leader, Councillor Jarrett, the following:

Can the Portfolio Holder for Finance confirm whether the Rochester Airport u-turn on part site development has come about because of a lack of long-term investment viability on the current lease agreed by the Conservative administration and whether, as a result, the improvements to the airport will happen before, or after, the Council has secured the proceeds from the sale and development of part of the Rochester Airport site?

Minutes:

Can the Portfolio Holder for Finance confirm whether the Rochester Airport u-turn on part site development has come about because of a lack of long-term investment viability on the current lease agreed by the Conservative administration and whether, as a result, the improvements to the airport will happen before, or after, the Council has secured the proceeds from the sale and development of part of the Rochester Airport site?

 

Councillor Jarrett stated that the proposal, which was agreed by Cabinet on 18 December 2012 to grant a new 25-year lease to an airport operator, which may or may not be the current airport operator from January 2014, was so that the airport could be improved and that eventually land could be released for development. He stated that this was certainly not a “U turn” of any sort but it was a sensible, considered approach, which would have the following benefits:

 

  • it would safeguard the long-term future sustainability of the airport;
  • it would also allow an operator the security of tenure on a longer lease  to invest in the airport without tying up the site over a much, much longer period, which had been suggested in some quarters in the past;
  • it would secure the improvement of the airport with improved public access and the heritage offer that the Leader referred to in his Leader’s Report; and
  • it would release much needed employment land.

 

Councillor Jarrett stated that the lease would initially be of the whole site as currently configured with the airport operator being required to carry out the improvements during the first two years of their lease. The Council would contribute towards the cost of these improvements and the level of this contribution was to be agreed with the operator and Cabinet and Full Council this summer and he would be bringing forward proposals to the Budget Council meeting in February.

 

When the improvements had been carried out, the development land would be handed back to the Council, so that it could be bought forward for development for employment uses and employment uses only. As a result, the improvements would be carried out before the Council secured the proceeds of sale from the development land. This process had been finalised after careful consultation, careful discussions and careful planning on the most beneficial use of the site ensuring the future longevity of the airport. He stated this was in stark contrast to the way that the Labour and Liberal led coalition had adopted a different policy which was born pretty well out of class hatred because of the constant speeches from Labour members at the time talking about the Conservatives wanting to protect the airport for their flying chums and the whole strategy that they were pursuing at that time was one of confrontation with the airport operators. There was confrontation with the local residents because of their desire to close the airport and so successful was that confrontational approach that they took they actually lost two seats in what was then Horsted Ward and two seats in what was then Warren Wood Ward and as a result lost their ascendancy on the Council.

 

The current approach had been a stark contrast to that. The Labour and Liberal led coalition had arrogantly dismissed all the views of local people who were interested in the site, local users of the site, the airport operators; in fact the views of anyone of any consequence were totally disregarded in this mad dash for cash that the failing administration had at that time because of their complete inability to bring forward sustainable budgets. He referred to the multi-million pound raids on reserves to prop up the budget and even a £400,000 cut in the street cleaning budget. So, it was a desperate and gloomy tale to be told about the Labour/Liberal administration at that time. The current approach brought forward some sensible plans that would do the things that had been mentioned, that would honour and respect the users of the site, would bring forward the airport so that it could be enjoyed not just by the users and the operators but by the local population and it would put the airport really at a very important place in terms of the wider regeneration of Medway. He stated that most boroughs throughout the south east would like to have an operational airport and Medway would continue to have one because the public of Medway had the good foresight to elect the Conservative administration.

 

Councillor Murray asked where the proposed business development would be: would the business rate income come to Medway Council or Tonbridge and Malling Council.

 

Councillor Jarrett stated that Councillor Murray was correct that the site fell across two administrative boundaries. In terms of the whole of the airport site, the freehold was owned by Medway Council. The greater part of it lay within Medway Council’s administrative area with a proportion of it within Tonbridge and Malling. He stated that Tonbridge and Malling would be part beneficiaries of the business rate income.

 

This would be dealt with in due course, but as a result of a Conservative-led coalition government, there were new arrangements for business rates and that local authorities would be greater beneficiaries of business rate income than they had been in the past. Therefore, whatever the scenario going forward regarding business rates on the site, Medway would be a major beneficiary and the beneficial income from the site would be both in terms of business rates underpinning the revenue budget and of course in terms of capital release from the site when it’s eventually developed. This would enable the Council to spend on other priorities.

 

Councillor Jarrett stated that the Council would not be selling the freehold of the developable land because it was essential that the Council retained control over developments that took place there, so there would be good quality business development coming forward.

 

He concluded by saying this was a large piece of development land of some 30 acres in size, which would be brought forward for development over a period of time in a careful, measured way and that the market would not be flooded to ensure the best possible prices to reinvest in Medway.