Following a marketing exercise, a decision was taken in 2020 to enter into a Development Agreement with Prime Developments for the delivery of a new scheme on the existing site of Chislehurst Library, which would provide a new library facility for the Council as part of a wider mixed-use development.
Regrettably, the original terms of the offer that the decision to enter into a Development Agreement with Prime Developments was predicated on, are no longer viable and the transaction unable to progress.
The report was therefore to update Members on the latest position, and to recommend that the existing library was retained as an ongoing operational facility for provision of library services, with no further market testing to be pursued.
In opening the discussion, Chislehurst Ward Councillor and Committee Member Councillor Mark Smith highlighted that the recommendation was regrettable but inevitable. The recommendations were a result of 10 lost years of investment, the impact of the pandemic and rising inflation costs. The building now required a level of investment going forward which would enable much needed disabled access and public toilets to be installed in the property. Only with investment could the building realise its potential as a useful community asset.
In response, the Director for Housing Planning and Regeneration confirmed that the Operational Property Review (for consideration later in the meeting) set out the strategic direction for the Council’s identified maintenance liabilities and the library was included in this.
In response to a question from the Chairman concerning why the option to remarket the property was being ruled out, the Head of Estates and Asset Management explained that the recommendation had been made to support the business case to maintain the property. However, taking on board comments submitted before the meeting, Officers were proposing the following amendment to recommendation 3:
That the property is not remarketed, nor any negotiations with potentially interested developers undertaken. However, should the Council undertake any redevelopment of its own assets within the immediate Chislehurst area, then the reprovision of a library in such a scheme would, as a matter of course, be considered thus enabling a future freehold disposal or opportunity to self-deliver social housing.
The Committee agreed that any amendment to the recommendation should be discussed and agreed with the Portfolio Holder with local Ward Councillors asked to comment on the final wording.
RESOLVED: That the Portfolio Holder be recommended to:
1. Agree that the terms of the proposal by the preferred purchaser, Prime Developments, are no longer viable and that the previously agreed transaction will not be progressing.
2. Agree that the property is retained as an operational asset for the purpose of continuing to deliver library provision for the local area.
3. Agree that the property is not remarketed, nor any negotiations with past bidders undertaken.
4. Agree that should the Council undertake any redevelopment of its own assets within the immediate Chislehurst area, then the reprovision of a library in such a scheme would as a matter of course, be considered thus enabling a future freehold disposal or opportunity to self-deliver social housing. Equally, should a similar such opportunity arise on non-Council owned land, that it be considered providing that has not already been explored and discounted during past marketing exercises.