Stalled garden village scheme given £1m public cash faces losing government support
Tresham Garden Village near Weldon was approved seven years ago, but a planning application has not materialised
By Sarah Ward
A flagship garden village scheme due to provide more than 1500 homes in the North of the county is losing government support.
More than half a million pounds have already been spent on Tresham Garden Village, despite the lack of a planning application. The scheme, which was approved in 2017 as part of a tranche of similar schemes by then chancellor Conservative George Osborne, has been given just over £1m of government cash to progress, but currently there is nothing to show for it.
A report to North Northamptonshire Council’s place and environment scrutiny committee meeting on Tuesday said little progress had been made for several years:
“Homes England [the government agency which deals with development] is concerned at the lack of progress now being made and is considering withdrawing its support for the scheme on the Garden Communities Programme. This has been communicated to the landowner and the promoters”.
The land belongs to the owners of the historic Deene Estate near Weldon and is being promoted by Hampshire based Land Acquisition and Promotion LLP.
The report says that the obstacle to things moving forward is that a promotion agreement has not been signed by the two parties.
At the meeting North Northamptonshire Council’s head of planning management Rob Harbour said the landowners had been keen to have a high quality development and did not want a ‘run of the mill housing estate’ and did want to limit its size.
“There is significant infrastructure that has to come with that - a substation is one of those things as is the highways and those things come at a cost and that tipped the proposal into an issue around its financial viability.”
He said assessments and surveys had meant the size had to increase from 1500 to 1900 homes to be viable, but it has now stalled. He said officers were disappointed that a planning application had been made and officers were hopeful it would come forward. The hold up is the commercial deal between Deene estate and the promoters.
Councillor David Brackenbury said the site was an ‘opportunity’ site rather than an allocated housing site. He described the development as a ‘thorn in the side’ of the council. He said the pressure now coming from Homes England could get the two parties round the table to finalise a deal.
A Freedom of Information request by NN Journal back in December 2019 revealed that the former East Northamptonshire Council had spent £549,000 of the £1.08m funding provided by Homes England on reports, legal advice and staff to work up the scheme.
£24,000 was spent in the first year (2016/17), £195,000 in the second, £215,000 in the third, £4,000 in 2019/20 and £110,000 in 2020/21.
In two financial years the former borough authority spent just over £80,000 on staffing related to the project.
This week we asked the authority what this substantial staffing spend entry related to and it said:
“The two costs relate to internal charges for staff time working in the North Northamptonshire Joint Planning & Delivery Unit to cover the costs of project management and agreeing the principles of development on behalf of the former East Northamptonshire Council, to inform the constraints and opportunities associated with developing the scheme proposal, and the preparation of a masterplan and delivery strategy.”
Since the North unitary took over from ENC, a further £59,000 has been spent on project management, a housing study and traffic modelling work.
A viability report was commissioned into the scheme but the authority is refusing to release it.
The authority said this week:
“The viability report contains commercial sensitive information gathered to help inform the Council in its decision making. To date, the findings of the report have not been made public through a report to one of the Council’s committees or an Executive Advisory Panel. For these reasons, North Northamptonshire Council are unable to make the report public.”
The scheme is being promoted by Land Acquisition LLP, which has links to the former BeeBee Developments, the original developer of the Priors Hall estate near Weldon.
Heneage Stevenson, who is a board member on the Brooke Weston Trust, is one of the directors.
The registered offices of company are the same as the Cadland estate, which is owned by Aldred Drummond, who worked for BeeBee Developments and was an associate of Alfred Buller, who went bust during the development.
NN Journal contacted Mr Drummond and he said ‘Promotion is agreed’. An application will be submitted in 2024.
Simon Hickling, estate director at Brudenell Estates, which includes Deene Park, said: ‘The Estate continues to work with our development partner to bring the site forward.’
And leader of North Northamptonshire Council Jason Smithers said:
“North Northamptonshire Council continues to work with partners in developing the principles around the Tresham Garden Village proposal, including Homes England, the scheme promoters and landowners. It’s disappointing that despite the Council’s long-term support, and that of Homes England, a planning application is yet to be received for consideration.”