Shedding light on Surrey’s secret billion pound property plan

Surrey’s Green and Liberal Democrat Councillors have revealed that Surrey County Council is in the process of planning housing and development across dozens of sites, in a secret deal that could be worth more than £1bn with a private sector partner.

The County Council is in the process of tendering a contract for a ‘Joint Property Joint Venture Partner’, which is described as “a unique opportunity to offer development delivery and service expertise across a raft of property development projects”.

The project would see Surrey County Council, along with a large number of public sector partners, releasing land and vacant sites currently owned by the County Council and others into the Joint Vehicle. The value of the project is estimated to be between £250m and £1.5bn, over a 15 year period with 32 sites currently identified and potentially 100 more under consideration.

The procurement document states: “The Council aims to secure delivery expertise, and bring capacity and pace to a development programme that ensures optimal performance and returns from investment activities”.

The County Council has refused to reveal information about potential sites. But using Freedom of Information Act legislation, opposition councillors can today reveal where half of the planned sites are located. These include sites in Epsom, West Molesey, Banstead, Leatherhead, Tongham, Warlingham, Caterham, Redhill, Reigate, Staines, Shepperton and Oxted.

Green Cllr  Jonathan Essex and Cllr Hazel Watson, Leader of the Liberal Democrats on Surrey County Council, have today written to the Leader of Surrey County Council, urging him to share more information on these proposals with County Councillors.

Cllr Essex said, “The County Council should be managing its land and assets in the best interest of residents. I am deeply concerned that there is no mention of affordability so far in terms of housing or whether there is an environmental framework that the Joint Vehicle will be adhering to in terms of ensuring that any future development is sustainable.

“In Haringey and Southwark, we have seen similar development vehicles come under intense criticism after public scrutiny has revealed the flaws within the small print of these highly complex contractual arrangements.

“It is incredibly disappointing that the Conservatives at County Hall have so far not released this information willingly as they should be prepared to answer all and any questions on a deal of this size. I am calling on the County Council to engage with its own residents and present the full financial picture, so that well-informed scrutiny can take place regarding this hugely important matter.”

Councillor Hazel Watson said, “Whilst it is good news that the County Council is finally looking at how to better utilise properties that have in some cases been empty for over a decade, the details of this project remain hidden from county councillors and local residents.

“We have no idea as to the details of how much a potential private sector partner would be looking to make in profit and what the margins are or rate of return for the county council. There is no information as to what kind of housing will be provided, tenure and whether it meets the needs of local residents.

“These plans deserve the highest level of scrutiny and public engagement, which is the exact opposite of the Conservative administration’s approach so far to its management of its own assets and the culture of secrecy which is prevalent at County Hall. I am calling for the release of the full list of potential development sites so that councillors and residents can play their part in scrutinising these highly complex and secretive proposals.”

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