To consider the attached report.
On behalf of the Strategic Director, the Service Manager (Housing Needs and Older People’s Services) reported that the interim Qualis Board and the group of companies had been established. Qualis Commercial was involved with the development of Council owned land. In April 2020, Cabinet approved the transfer of the land ownership into Qualis Commercial for the five Epping Town sites and the Roundhills site. Qualis Management expected the delivery of the Council’s repairs service, and work on the Epping Town Council sites to go live in September 2020. Qualis Commercial and the Design Team were working to develop the strategic options for the five Epping Town sites – St John’s Road, Bakers Lane and Cottis Lane car parks, land by the Civic Offices and Epping Sports Centre. The Planning performance agreement that set out the approach through the pre-planning stages up to the submission of a full planning application had been agreed. To ensure stakeholder engagement throughout the planning process, a detailed communications plan would be established, to include consultation through the Commonplace online community platform. A detailed appraisal process would be followed to assess the suitability of each site to achieve a policy compliant scheme. The team was currently in the first stage of design and consultation. On the Roundhills site, stage 1 was due for completion in July, the architects had been appointed and planning submission should be achieved by the end of the summer.
Cllr R Bassett said that Councillor H Kauffman was on the interim Board and did he want to comment? Councillor Kauffman advised that there would be a large amount of work undertaken along with feasibility studies, dialogue with planners and was looking forward to the consultations.
Councillor R Brookes asked what was planned for the St John’s Road site on the proposed leisure centre as she had received many enquiries about this? When would she be able to advise them further and how would they respond to the company handling the requests? The Service Manager replied that she would ask the Strategic Director to reply to this question after the meeting.
Councillor A Heap commented that in respect of the planning performance agreements, it seemed that the Council was approving the Council’s progress. On artistic qualities of place making and conservation, he was not convinced that anything was particularly artistically viable, and who would be in control of this? Qualis should not just concentrate on the commercial aspects but could have an energy company and by putting solar panels on buildings, the Council should be able to benefit from this renewable energy revenue stream that could help lower Council Tax, for instance. He would submit a proposal on this in due course.
Councillor J M Whitehouse remarked that regarding the Commonplace consultation, there was not much information on the proposals being shared with the public, yet there had been many reports to Cabinet, and this should be explicit in consultations. Also, who was on the interim Board and when would the transfer to the full, permanent Board happen? Also, how much capital loan had Qualis used thus far?
The Strategic Director responded after the meeting that at present the Commonplace site was unable to post any specific proposals until they had been through Qualis Board and Committee. This initial consultation with Commonplace was to find out what was important to those living and working in the District by using sentiment questions about the different sites. This information would then be considered and used to progress draft proposals, which would be added to the site as soon as possible. The site was a way to gain as much engagement and feedback as early on as possible.
Cllr Kauffman replied that he was a non-executive director, as were Councillors N Avey and J Philip. The transfer to the permanent Board should take place between September and October this year. Mr P ffolkes Davis was the Chairman, and members on the interim board were very knowledgeable and experienced. Mr C Ives was the Development Director and was also very experienced. The planning performance agreement was a very useful tool. He supported its use because Council officers were the best people to know and advise on sustainability, design and use, while Qualis, as a developer, was there to progress the projects forward. This combination was right to ensure good design and uses, and the planning performance agreement allowed for checks and balances to be in place. In terms of green initiatives, Qualis was going for highly sustainable developments and there would be more information coming out, but Qualis had to make sure that these schemes were financially viable and were appropriate for the development sites. We were going through a very difficult commercial time at the moment, the world was changing and we needed to be able to react to that, not produce a scheme that might already be out of date because of the circumstances that we would be delivering it.
The Chief Operating Officer, N Dawe, said that £1.5 million had been drawn from the capital to date and effectively after that, a full report on the first two quarters of operation would be produced for the interim Qualis Board in late July and be reported to Cabinet soon after.
Councillor A Heap commented that going forward he thought the Qualis Board should be enlarged and open to the Greens, especially on the future of the Green Policy, and the Liberal Democrats would also have something to offer. Therefore, there would be wider participation.
(1) That the current progress with the Group Company set up be noted;
(2) That progress of the five Epping Town Centre sites be noted; and
(3) That progress of the Roundhills sites be noted.