Thursday, 8 May 2014

Victoria House Sold

Victoria House, that ugly (despite the wall paper) building welcoming visitors to Worcester Park from Sutton and Visitors to Sutton from Kingston and anywhere along the A3, has been sold to the Home Group.

A deal was formally agreed between the existing owners, Stonegate Homes and the Home Group last week. The good news is that the Home Group fully intends to go ahead with the current proposal, albeit with some minor internal alterations.

Stonegate Homes bought the site early in 2012 and set about organising plans for a new development on the site which the community broadly backed. In June last year the plans that had been developed in conjunction with the local community were approved by Sutton's Development Control Committee however a couple of months later the building was back on the market again leading to much speculation about why Stonegate Homes had put it up for sale again and whether they had ever intended to carry out the work, perhaps preferring instead to sell it on with planning permission, adding a great deal of value to the site - and profit to the sale. This depiction of events was never confirmed but was repeatedly hinted at. For example one local(ish) councillor wrote on her blog on 5th November last year:
"I can not help but feel, that whilst Sutton Council is doing its bit in marketing North Cheam, the real answer lies with Stonegate, the owners of Victoria House.  I and many other people just wish they would just get a move on, stop playing at 'Property Speculation'"
However there was an alternative version of events which also fits the known facts and was alluded to in the recent Sutton Guardian story about the building. Stonegate's land director James Fitzgerald was quoted here as saying:
"It was in doubt because the council was very hard to negotiate with on section 106 payments, there was a lot of internal fighting between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives, but it's on track now."
The blog has spoken to several people including Stephen Curwen, the director of Stonegate, and it seems that the council had added an addition section 106 payment to the deal after the planning approval was granted. This had been considered to be part of the main S106 payment but afterwards looks to have been redefined as an additional separate payment required from the developer as part of the planning approval agreement. For those (i.e. most people) who don't know what section 106 money is - it is basically money required to be paid by a developer to the local council to cover the costs of additional council services that will be required by users of the new development. The agreed amount forms part of the planning agreement. Now that you know what Section 106 money is, you can forget it again because it's all changing.

Mr Curwen who grew up in Stoneleigh and told the blog "Victoria House was a derelict site when I was a kid!" didn't wish to disclose how much extra money was being asked for but the blog understands it was not an insignificant sum. It was the investors who had decided not to continue with the project, forcing the site to be put up for sale again. However negotiations continued between Stonegate and the council and a figure has now been reached that has been agreed by both sides. Mr Curwen was keen to stress that all councillors he dealt with were helpful and all sides wanted the project to go ahead. He did also mention that Councillor Eric Allen was very positive and keen to help from the start.

Even though they no longer own the site, Stonegate will still be working with the Home Group on the project, so retaining a stake in the new development. They are looking to begin the work of demolition in August. Ladbrokes is staying put so the demolition will need to be done while keeping the Ladbrokes section of the building in tact.

The building itself has fallen into such bad disrepair that a window fell and smashed on the pavement without warning a few months ago narrowly missing passers-by. It will be good to see this work finally being done. Mind you with all the delays so far - I'll wait until I see the demolition actually begin before I open any bubbly white wine from a specific region in France. Although if they just leave it a bit longer it might just fall apart all by itself...

Councils and Development

It is my view (being Simon Densley - a Conservative council candidate) that if someone is prepared to come along and pour millions of pounds of their own money into something that will greatly benefit the community and the local area, then they should be given the opportunity to make a reasonable profit from that investment. I don't believe the council should try to squeeze every last drop out of a developer, just assuming 'they can afford it'.

Unfortunately this is not the first time Sutton Council seems to have scared off potential developers by insisting on too much from them:

In 2012 Sutherland House on Brighton Road just south of Sutton Station was similarly given planing permission but again onerous S106 conditions made the development financially unviable. Developers are now instead looking at permitted development rights to just turn it into residential flats - because this doesn't require Sutton Council to give planning permission (hence 'permitted' development). It is not the development which would have best served the community and certainly not what Sutton could have had if the council had been more reasonable.

Another one was the old Burger King site on the main road heading North out of Sutton towards Rosehill. This was bought by Travelodge as one of a number of sites to develop. But once again the conditions placed on development by the council, this time regarding the environmental conditions, left the site so low down the profitable pecking order that it hasn't been worth their while going ahead with the development - leaving just another derelict site on a Sutton high street.

Update (12th May 2014)

A few people have questioned some of the facts here and asked for more detail. Cllr Eric Allen has obliged with the following statement:
"At a meeting of Councillors and planning officers on 4th April we were advised that the Developers of Victoria House were in discussion with a social housing organisation to take over the site. The problems that the developer (Stonegate) sited for the delays in the development were the required seven affordable homes plus the payment of £390,000 in upfront charges (S106 money) on top of the £500,000+ they were obliged to spend on public realm projects. 
Stonegate wanted to either be removed from the obligation to provide the seven affordable homes (supplied at cost therefore no profit) or to have the S106 additional contribution removed. 
As this is a landmark site which currently blights the North Cheam cross roads I had no objection to the removal of the S106 money, and suggested we agree this on condition that the developers started the demolition of the building within 2 months. 
As Conservative councillor for Nonsuch, I have been fully supportive of the redevelopment and a strong advocate for renegotiating the charges imposed by the Liberal Democrat Council in order to kick start the redevelopment for the benefit of local people. It has been the Liberal Democrat imposition of almost £900,000 of financial obligation on the developer that made the project unprofitable and delayed the redevelopment. 
The commercial loss to the council in terms of Council tax is around £100,000 for every year the redevelopment is delayed."

Promoted by Ranulph Murray, on behalf of Sutton Borough Conservatives Federation, both of 2a Sutton Court Road, Sutton, SM1 4SY

23 COMMENTS (Add Yours Now!):

Ginger said...

OMG he's at it again!

adam said...

At what again ginger ? .... Frankly the councils behaviour over Victoria house has been disgracful

Stewart Mackay Conservative WP said...

I had alluded to this months ago. In political circles it is well known that the liberal council has been halting development of this site (and others) becuase of ever changing and ever increasing section 106 money. Frankly they should be ashamed of themselves.

June said...

As it has been sold to a Social Housing Association - Does it mean that the 75 apartments will now be used for Social Housing? Planning permission was based on Privately owned with 7 for shared ownership - will this now change? How does the change of ownership effect the development?

Bexx Bissell said...

Hi Simon. In November last year you said that if I have something political to say you would do that under your own name.
That worked well and it's a shame you have decided to stop doing that. Perhaps you could have posted all of the first section of the above post as the Worcester Park Blogger and then put the Councils and Development section as a comment from yourself. Just a thought.

Simon Densley (Blogger, Consv) said...

Hi Bexx,
While it could be argued that this section is still important and relevant 'news' about the situation rather than merely my political opinion, I have taken your point and included a bracketed section which makes it clear who the 'my' in 'my view' actually refers to and my political affiliation. I would be interested to know if you find this satisfactory.

Andrew (the former WP Blogger) said...

Have another look at what Simon said in November - he was talking about how his policy on posting comments in response to other blog readers' comments on the blog.

It's all a bit academic anyway, really. Simon Densley is the Worcester Park Blogger and the Worcester Park Blogger is Simon Densley.

Alex said...

So, basically, the Section 106 payment is a back hander to Sutton Council, in exchange for planning permission? Presumably Sutton Council wanted X amount, but Stonegate were only prepared to pay Y... but there's an election coming, so Sutton Council settled for Y, as the Liberal Democrats hoped it would gain a few votes?

If I'm wrong, can someone explain why Victoria House has been allowed to rot and fall apart for decades. And then, along comes an election that the Liberal Democrats fear they'll lose, and (as though a magic wand was passed over North Cheam), a fortnight before the big day, suddenly the problem is solved!

Great news! So what exactly is Sutton's Liberal Democrat Councillors excuse for the last 20+ years of idly watching Victoria House drag down the whole of North Cheam?

Bexx Bissell said...

Hi Andrew. Thanks for running the blog for all that time!
Well on re-reading it you are right that Simon was referring to his policy in response to other readers comments. However, if he wants to maintain a wide readership I would suggest that such a policy would be good to follow for any political points he wishes to make, as I suggested in my original comment. In fact, until last week that's what I had got the impression he was doing.
Perhaps I missed something but I previously thought he had got the balance right, but now the election is looming things seem to have changed dramatically. If things carry on the way they are it is possible that a large number of readers will be alienated.

Bexx Bissell said...

Hi Simon. Your change has made the situation clearer to any new readers who may come on board and not realise that the blogger is a Conservative candidate. However, I still think that what I suggested (all be it based on not fully appreciating the finer point of your original post, as kindly pointed out to me by Andrew) would be a much better way of doing things if you want to keep a wide readership. At this rate the blog will just be read by Conservative voters (of which I could be one) and you will have less chance of getting your views across to those who you may wish to "convert" :-)

Laura said...

As a local resident I'm grateful for the update. If the update happens to come from a political candidate who has proved his interest, commitment and pro-active role in the local community, then I'll make my own mind up about that at voting time.

June said...

Does anyone know if the 75 planned flats will now be social housing? Originally they were to be pribatley owned with 7 allocated to shared ownership, but now it has been sold to a Social Housing Association im guessing that will change? What impact will this change of ownership have on the redevelopment?

Guest D said...

Section 106 payments as Simon said are a charge on the developer for the extra infrastructure costs that the development causes.

Of course the Council wants to cover those costs and of course the developer wants to pay nothing, so you get haggling, sometimes they will come to an agreement as appears to be the case here.

But as Simon says don't break out the white sparkling wine (should be Kentish, it's superior to that from the same terrior in France) as there will probably be another round when the developer says it's not economic and pulls out or sells on again.

Don't say it doesn't happen just look at the Battersea Power Station saga that a flagship Conservative council have struggled with.

Stewart Mackay Conservative WP said...

Haggling. Yes. But changing the amount by 000's after an agreement has been made just goes to how ameteur or desperate the local administration has become.

Bexx Bissell said...

Do you have any way of verifying that's what happened Stewart? I'm not saying that isn't what happened, it wouldn't surprise me one bit if it did, regardless of which administration was in power. However, as this is now becoming a partisan blog I would prefer to treat comments from politicians who have an agenda with a healthy degree of scepticism.

Guest D said...

Stewart, as Bexx has said, I would like to see proof of such statements. I would also expect the changes to the amount to be in 0,000's rather than the 000's.

Also was this in the response to the change to the originally granted planning application which had more social housing and so would incur a higher Section 106 charge due to the lower social housing element.

Once these factors are taken into account then we can judge whether the council has been ameteur (sic) or prudent.

June said...

Has anyone got a clue what the Home Group plan to do with this building? According to their website they work with ex offenders - will this be used to house ex offenders? If so will this need to go to planning again?

Gino said...

I suggest writing to Sutton council planning for the facts about this fiasco. Or read the dribble that may invade your letter box ,you know from those that tell us what a wonderful job they've done over (28) years and can only give half a dozen examples.
Because the fact is most of the credit should actually go to the community who do the work ,oh yes while paying high council tax .
Thank goodness we can change this now. (22May ,make them pay ,use your clout and let's get them out!)

Guest said...

The S106 was a 7 figure sum I believe. Will be interesting to see what is done with the money.

Bexx Bissell said...

Thanks to the blogger for posting some additional information on this

June said...

Can Eric Allen let us know how the development will now change from when planning permission was granted? The Home group are a Social Housing Association and work with ex offenders - will they now be using Victoria House for Social Housing and will it be used for ex offenders?

AlanRogers1 said...

It still doesn't say that the figures were changed after the deal was done and alll of the politicians posting on this subject are from the same party.

Linda Ashby said...

So it is almost the end of August and besides a hoarding going up round the outside of the building nothing has been done. We the residents of Worcester Park and more especially North Cheam are totally fed up with the lies from all parties saying that this building is going to be demolished. WHEN !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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