Cheltenham Borough Council
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Agenda item

Golden Valley, West Cheltenham- impact of COVID on the project

Tim Atkins, Managing Director,  Place and Growth and Jamie Fox, Programme Consultant-Golden Valley Development

 

Minutes:

The Chair welcomed Tim Atkins, the Managing Director of Place and Growth and Jamie Fox, Programme Consultant. 

 

Tim Atkins reminded members that the Council sought to deliver the development of 45 hectares of land which was acquired in August 2019 and represented a programme which had gathered pace.  He had been asked to update the committee on the impact of Covid-19 on the procurement process, the programme and the assessments which had informed these processes. 

 

Jamie Fox explained that the procurement of a development/investment partner was due to be launched, in March at Mipim, the world’s leading real estate market event.  The proposed launch to attract investor/development partners included a ministerial introduction supported by the Department of International Trade (DIT).  Unfortunately, due to Covid-19, this process plan had to be reviewed and in April 2020, four options were considered in relation to the procurement of a future development/investment partner:

 

·             Option 1 – Continue procurement as proposed in original timetable

·             Option 2 – Continue procurement allowing for new timetable

·             Option 3 – Defer procurement

·             Option 4 – Alternative procurement structure

It was agreed that that the authority should continue with the competitive dialogue approach approved by Cabinet in March 2020, so as not to lose the momentum and excitement already generated in the wider development/investment market, however should allow for a new timetable to be considered taking account of potential delays from Covid-19 (option 2 above).  Pursuing this option further demonstrated the confidence the Council had in achieving their vision and delivering their objectives of enhancing Cheltenham as the UK’s Capital of Cyber. 

The Council formally launched its search for a development partner on the 11 May and given Covid-19, attention was focussed on marketing online and utilising social media platforms to support the launch.  In addition a number of presentations were made to DITs international colleagues across the global regions.  Around 120 enquiries were made, resulting in 11 formal expressions of interest being received.  These submissions were in the process of being reviewed and a maximum of 6 would be invited to submit outline tender solutions, before being shortlisted to 3 in late 2020, with the preferred party being chosen spring 2021. 

Tim Atkins stressed that this process would be subject to stringent internal gateway reviews by the Project Board, Executive Leadership Team and Cabinet Member, as well as more widely with Tewkesbury Borough and Gloucestershire County Council.  There were clearly a number of factors at play, with key issues such as Junction 10 yet to be finalised; but the UK ambition to become the global leader in terms of cyber meant that Cheltenham ticked a lot of boxes.  Generating more Government interest was undoubtedly possible but allocating resources to this end, at a time when CBC was under such financial pressure meant the ability to do this was limited. 

The Managing Director of Place and Growth and Programme Consultant gave the following answers to member questions:

·      For commercial reasons, it would not be possible to announce details of any development partners until the preferred bidder was announced.

·      There was a question over whether a green recovery was deliverable.  The green ambitions of this council and those of Gloucestershire County Council were set out in the procurement document, as well as in the Supplementary Planning Document which was agreed by Council, but this set the bar high and could impact the financial viability of any future development proposal.  CBC would strive to achieve as much as was possible and he was confident that the outcome would still be a good one in terms of green credentials. 

·      The Minster Project demonstrated the huge demand for low carbon modular construction and innovative co-working space and would result in a different working environment/proposition to existing commercial properties in Cheltenham and feedback from the market suggested that there was indeed a market for it. 

·      There was no doubt that CBC needed to take existing communities with them on this journey, not least because the areas being discussed were adjacent to some of the highest levels of deprivation in the town.  Members would be aware that the plan had been to appoint new personnel to undertake a community role but given the financial pressure that CBC now found itself under, due to Covid-19, resource for this would have to be reconsidered. 

·      £22m of funding had been secured from the Local Enterprise Partnership for improved transport and infrastructure links; colleagues at GCC were increasingly supportive of this focus.  Junction 10 and the Arle Court park and ride improvements was positive news for Cheltenham but CBC was clear that it did not want a car based scheme at Golden Valley.  The competitive dialogue route allowed CBC to have discussions with bidders and ask searching questions regarding sustainability and transport.  In relation to the proposed form of development and impact of Covid, it was important to note that Golden Valley would be a 10 -15 year programme, which would therefore also be faced with different economic cycles which ultimately could impact the composition of any development. 

·      The relationship between CBC and GCHQ had developed over many years.  GCHQ were looking at moving some elements of what they do to Manchester, but a lot of what was being done in Manchester was less to do with cyber and therefore not the sector Cheltenham was focussing on. 

·      Covid-19 could result in more office accommodation being available, with lower rents, but many of these spaces were and would continue to be unsuitable for those operating in the cyber industry.  Cheltenham looked to become the cyber capital, as the UK sought to become a cyber nation and this required a lot of scaling up.  That was the vision which Golden Valley proposed to achieve. 

·      In terms of unit numbers, the JCS had used a basic multiplier to arrive at the figure of 1100 residential properties, but further, more in-depth analysis of the site (through the recently adopted SPD) has resulted in a potential increase in unit numbers to around 2600 – but this would be subject of future planning application(s) and members were reminded that the vision for this site was high quality design, the likes of which were not often seen.

·      Marketing of the cyber proposals and economic facts had landed well and there had been a number of discussions with various people within Government, but lobbying campaigns required lots of resource and money to do well and CBC were not able to commit to this at a time when it was facing significant financial challenges.  Lots of channels were still open and anything they could do to influence the government would be done.

Members agreed that this was an ambitious and exciting prospect for Cheltenham and commended everyone involved for the impressive, exciting and engaging marketing that had been done to date. 

The Chair felt that this was the most exciting thing to happen in Cheltenham in her lifetime, but also acknowledged the unfortunate timing of Covid.  She felt that the economy would ultimately determine what quality of development we would end up with and worried that this might make the vision undeliverable.  She also urged development partners to be encouraged to have artists and creators involved at an early stage to ensure that any public art was more than simply an afterthought, which she felt would be a missed opportunity.  Officers were asked to come back at relevant stages of the programme to keep members informed of progress and Jamie Fox would liaise with Democratic Services on timescales.

 

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