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Overview and Scrutiny Minutes - 17th April 2008

TORRIDGE DISTRICT COUNCIL

OVERVIEW AND SCRUTINY COMMITTEE

Committee Room, Riverbank House, Bideford

17th April 2008

PRESENT: Councillor C J Leather (Chairman)
Councillor Mrs C B Church (Vice Chairman)
Councillors L Ford (substitute for Councillor Symons), D Fulford, R Johnson, B J Lacey, D M Lausen, Mrs F M Perkin, S Robinson and R Rumbold

Also in attendance, Councillor S Clarke, Ken Miles (Solicitor), Jenny Wallace (Director Strategic Resources), Mr D Howell (Chairman of Bideford Chamber of Commerce) and members of the Maritime Volunteer Reserve

Apologies for absence were received from Councillors R Brown, Symons, R Tisdale and Mr R

French (Independent Member)

48

AGREEMENT OF AGENDA BETWEEN PARTS I AND II

The Chairman proposed that Agenda item 6, Brunswick Wharf - Update, called in from the meeting of the Policy, Performance and Review Committee held on the 31st March 2008, draft minute number 184, page 31/18; be bought into Part I of the agenda, as it was important that there was an open and transparent discussion of this item, in light of recent publicity and public concern.

(Vote for - unanimous)

49

DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST

Councillor Mrs Church declared a Personal Interest in agenda item 6, Brunswick Wharf -Update, as she lived in close proximity to Brunswick Wharf.

Councillor Clarke declared a Prejudicial Interest as owner of the Kathleen and May and left the room.

50

URGENT MATTERS OF INFORMATION BROUGHT FORWARD WITH THE PERMISSION OF THE CHAIRMAN AND THE COMMITTEE

The Chairman informed the Committee that there would be an additional Overview and Scrutiny meeting to be held on 11th June 2008, at 10.00, with the next scheduled Overview and Scrutiny meeting to be held on Wednesday 7th May 2008, at 10.00 am.

51

EXCLUSION OF THE PUBLIC

The Chairman and Committee confirmed that the public could remain for the meeting as the decision to hold the meeting and discussion of Brunswick Wharf and the Kathleen and May, be held in Part I due to public interest in this item.

52

BRUNSWICK WHARF - UPDATE

The Chairman gave a brief history of Brunswick Wharf stating that it had been conveyed to Torridge District Council in 2000. At that time a lease, for nil rent, was in existence between the previous owners and Mr S Clarke who berthed the Kathleen and May there. However, upon conveyance of the lease, negotiations proceeded over a new lease, which culminated in a report to the Policy, Performance and Review Committee in November 2006 offering a twelve-month lease at full market rent. That had not been taken up and the lease had been terminated in early 2007. The Kathleen and May Trust had then been offered a licence to cross Brunswick Wharf to gain access to the boat but this had been deemed as too restrictive.

Following further discussions on the use of the yard and buildings with regard to health and safety concerns, it had been suggested to the Trust that the rent of approximately £17,000 could be offset by the Trust carrying out works to the building of a similar value. The Trust had responded by requesting a two-year lease with rent being offset by carrying out the identified works to the value of £17,000. This equated to twelve months rent, half the value of the market rent. It had been pointed out that the business rates on the property would stand at approximately £8,000 per annum. It was stated that if the tenant were a registered charity it would benefit from 80% tax relief, however, the Kathleen and May Trust was a company limited by guarantee and not eligible for the concession. Various options had been proposed to try and resolve the issue and were listed in the report submitted to the Committee.

A detailed and lengthy discussion then followed which included comments by Members and members of the Maritime Reserve who were present on; the berthing of the Kathleen and May to enable restoration of the boat to take place, the state of the buildings and repairs required in relation to health and safety, the listed building, the security of the premises if vacated and the future development and regeneration of the Wharf as part of Bideford as a whole.

It was noted that the Kathleen and May Trust, a not for profit company limited by guarantee, were involved in ongoing maintenance and restoration of the historically important Kathleen and May, which required more than just a berth and access to the boat. Volunteers who carried out the work stated that without covered facilities, i.e. the buildings on Brunswick Wharf, they would not be in a position to carry on with their preventative maintenance programme. The Trust understood that their use of the Brunswick Wharf and adjacent buildings was for a limited period, and that the site had been earmarked for re-development at a future date, as part of the overall regeneration programme of Bideford. Whilst Councillor Clarke owned the vessel, he was not a director of the Kathleen and May Trust who ran and operated the boat and were responsible for her maintenance.

The Kathleen and May were grateful for the support that Torridge District Council had given the project since the restoration began and the Trust believed that they were almost in "touching distance" of securing a permanent resolution of the financial position of the boat. Many people in the District were very supportive of their aims and saw the Kathleen and May as a symbol of what could be achieved in regeneration and restoration. It was seen by many, including the local Chamber of Commerce, as a catalyst for the longed for regeneration of Bideford. Torridge District Council had in the past confirmed that they believed there were District wide economic benefits, which would accrue from a successful regeneration of Bideford.

The Committee understood that even if the Kathleen and May were not at Brunswick Wharf, Torridge District Council would still have a financial liability, with regard to business rates and the expenditure of making safe the buildings deemed to be in need of attention. With the site due for redevelopment, careful consideration would need to be given before spending any resources there. It may well be possible for the yard to be used for alternative activities, i.e. parking, but this would also require some financial expenditure on site first.

By offering a twelve month lease, with the Trust Company undertaking the necessary safety work to the buildings to abate the rent, it was made clear that this would allow them time to raise funds for any future rental required. The Committee believed that this recommendation would confirm to the general public Torridge District Councils support for the Kathleen and May project, as part of the much larger and wider regeneration scheme for the area.

The Chairman then requested that Councillor Clarke return to the meeting to answer Members questions. Councillor Clarke confirmed that if a compromise could not be reached on the issue of the berthing of the Kathleen and May at Brunswick Wharf, alternatives would have to be looked at including the sale of the boat or finding an alternative berth. It was confirmed that the Kathleen and May had been moved into the Core Collection of the top fifty on the National Register of Historic Ships, total listed 2000. Councillor Clarke stated that during his visit to the Minister and ensuing discussion with regard to the Kathleen and May, it was confirmed that the only way the Kathleen and May could remain in Bideford was by means of a £5 million package from the Government that would include a yearly revenue grant. However, without Torridge District Council support it would be unlikely that funding and the retention of the Kathleen and May in Bideford would be possible. Councillor Clarke confirmed that the Trust would be open to the proposal of a twelve month lease, to be reviewed again in a further twelve months.

Councillor Clarke then left the meeting whilst discussion on the most viable outcome was discussed.

RECOMMENDED

Councillor Robinson proposed, seconded by Councillor Johnson, that an offer of a lease of the yard and buildings for twelve months, with the rent being abated by the carrying out of the repair works to the buildings on site; removal of articles in the buildings and yard that were not directly related to the restoration of the Kathleen and May be approved subject to terms and conditions to be agreed by the Solicitor.

The meeting commenced at 6.00 p.m. and ended at 7.45 p.m.