The history of this proposal began in July 2003 when a Planning Brief was issued by the Council after four years of consultations. There was no open marketing exercise but the Council entered into a Development Agreement with Thornfield Properties (Winchester) Ltd in December 2004.
In 2007 the Council resolved to grant permission for a scheme to contain: retail, office, private and social residential uses, a medical surgery, a private and a public car park, and a bus station. Amendments were made in 2008, and planning permission was issued in January 2009 when the Section 106 Agreement was completed.
Thornfield Properties PLC, the parent company, fell into financial difficulty and was put into Administration In January 2010. In December 2010, the subsidiary Thornfield company was acquired by Henderson UK Property Fund. To acquire the complete site, a CPO Inquiry was held in June 2012, and the Order was confirmed in March 2013.
Very shortly after the CPO was confirmed the developer indicated that it wanted to revise the consented scheme, and it began a dialogue with the Council which culminated in a public exhibition of its proposed changes in April 2014.
Those changes included the loss of the bus station and the 100 affordable homes which were key features of the 2009 scheme. In August 2014 the Council (acting as landowner) agreed to accept these changes and to allow the developer to submit a series of planning applications. On 11th December 2014 the Planning Committee voted to grant the developer permission for the revised scheme. Following this the applications were referred to the Secretary of State for his consideration and subsequently an Article 25 Direction was issued.
In January 2015 the Council was challenged in a High Court judicial review over the matter of procurement. The Judgment handed down in February found that the Council acted unlawfully in failing to procure the contract on two occasions and that "it would be an exceptional course to allow its unlawful decision to stand".
The Council, as defendant, chose not to appeal the Judgment which had severely criticised its actions. However, Henderson, as an ‘interested party’, are still trying to appeal the Judgment even though its first application for leave to appeal was rejected. At the same, in mid-March, Henderson notified the Council that it intended to revert to the 2009 scheme on the basis that the affordable housing had suddenly become affordable, and that Stagecoach now did want a bus station after all. This 180 degree about turn has caused much head scratching in all quarters, except amongst those making the actual decisions and those advising them, all of whom have taken what seems to be an implausible sequence of events in their stride.
In terms of process, what Henderson had to do next was to satisfy a series of conditions so as to make the contract with the Council unconditional, and its position on the site secure. For its part, the Council had to assess various submissions by Henderson and then confirm whether each of them had satisfied the conditions. Following a series of internal presentations and semi-public meetings in early July, at a special cabinet meeting on 15th July 2015 the Council gave Henderson the ‘green light’, in spite of the fact that not one condition had actually been met in accordance with the terms of the contract.
Because the Council has insisted that much of the relevant discussions should be held in exempt session and not disclosed, the public is understandably confused about much of the legal process. One thing though that is crystal clear, is that the Council had an opportunity to move towards terminating the agreement with Henderson as from June 1st, providing the contract conditions had not been met. They had not been met and, although Henderson still had a right to satisfy the conditions within four weeks of the service of a notice to terminate, the Council’s failure to take any action was inexplicable and extraordinary. At no time in the weeks before June 1st, nor in the weeks afterwards whilst it retained its right to terminate, did the Council ever give it the slightest thought. It was as if the Judicial Review had never happened.
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