Secretive council’s deal with Tesco

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Peggy Gledhill (Letters, 7 June) is quite right to ask whether or not Tesco is the principal player behind the debate over the future of Broadbridge Leisure Centre but she will wait in vain for an answer from Horsham Council.

Gradually as more information is prised out of our secretive council it becomes ever clearer how close its relationship is with Tesco and thus how compromised it has become.

It is impossible to see how the public will view its critical decisions over the future of the Leisure Centre and its planning brief for this area to be anything other than driven by commercial interests.

Back in 2009 the council announced it had secured a narrow strip of land alongside the A24 from Tesco which will be needed to create the slip road for the new junction to serve Countryside’s Broadbridge Heath development.

What it failed to disclose openly at the time was that in return the council had agreed to give Tesco pre-emption rights in respect of the Leisure Centre site.

Now why would that have been an issue unless the council already had in mind to sell the land to Tesco?

A second agreement was signed with Tesco in July 2011 when the council agreed not to sell the land for two years and then to give Tesco first option on any sale within the following four years.

This, of course, covers the time span in which we now know the council planned to dispose of the Leisure Centre site.

Earlier in 2011, officials were telling the company preparing a valuation report on the site for the council that “a retail bulky goods user .. may be acceptable”.

This was just before the council published its draft Broadbridge Heath Quadrant planning brief in May which says that ‘expansion of the food store is considered acceptable as well as repeating the line on bulky goods.

Just before the consultation on the planning brief closed, Mango Planning, on behalf of Tesco, put in a response which confirms Tesco’s interest in the site and asks that the reference to bulky goods be removed and the whole Broadbridge Heath Quadrant site be designated as a shopping centre to serve Horsham and the Broadbridge Heath redevelopment.

Even before the latest revelations, the Horsham Society had said that the planning brief seemed designed more to increase the value of publicly owned land than meet the needs of Horsham or Broadbridge Heath.

Now it seems that the way is being paved for a huge new shopping complex which would kill the retail economy of the town.

It goes without saying that this has to be stopped but what confidence can we have that HDC can objectively consider the future of this critical site when, however tangentially, it has a huge financial stake in the outcome?

JOHN STEELE

Horsham Society, Old Denne Gardens, Horsham

Horsham District Council chief executive Tom Crowley responds: In 2007/8 there was intense local debate about two alternative solutions for dealing with the realignment of the A264/A281 through the housing development being planned for the area to the south of Broadbridge Heath . The local community felt very strongly that the only acceptable option was one that would create a new dual carriageway to the south of the existing bypass. The district council fully supported the local community and insisted that the developers planned on that basis. However, an area of land required for the new junction was under the control of Tesco’s and we had to negotiate with the company to gain control of the land. If we had not succeeded in doing so the favoured highway solution would not have been possible.In exchange for giving the land to the council, Tesco required us to agree that we would not dispose of the leisure centre site for a two year period (which ends on July 12 2013) and after that that we would not dispose of the land for a further period of four years (ending July 12 2017) without first offering it to Tesco at a price to be agreed. Neither agreement places any obligation on the council to dispose of the leisure centre site at any time. We did not have to compensate Tesco for giving us the land and the agreements enabled the community’s preferred highway solution to be delivered. The agreements have been logged with the Land Registry, which is available to the public, since May 2009.