- Meeting of Economy Regeneration & Housing Committee, Tuesday, 26th October 2021 6.00 p.m. (Item 45.)
The Director of Regeneration and Place presented his report on the breadth of the Council’s regeneration programme for about the next 4 years, which was one of the largest such programmes in the country. New staff had been appointed to drive forward the programme. The Wirral Growth Company, a partnership between the Council and Muse Developments, had begun the programme in March 2019. The Government’s Housing Infrastructure Fund provided £6 million which started the housing developments in the previous industrial areas in Nov 2019 as part of a ‘brownfield first’ strategy. Extra funding, including the Future High Street Fund, helped drive the regeneration agenda and enabled possibilities for regeneration where Council funding alone would be insufficient, including removing the flyovers to the South of Birkenhead. In total in 2021 £88.71 million funding had been secured for over 130 projects, and additional funding of £130 million had been applied for. There were challenges from increasing costs of all materials, the expectations of sustainable development including the developing guidance and the changing property market following the Covid-19 pandemic.
It was intended that the physical development would enable communities to connect and develop themselves and improve quality of life, community cohesion and the environment, with low carbon developments and housing where active and public transport was encouraged.
Councillor Hodson raised concerns regarding the LGA Planning Peer Review Update report, produced in July 2020 and referred to in the presentation slides, and read out passages from it, which included the statement that “There appears to be a lack of support from Legal Services which has the potential to de-rail the growth agenda. The investors and partners describe … the attitude, tone and approach of the Council’s Legal Service is combative and inefficient”.
The Director of Law and Governance, in answer to Members’ concerns, explained that the comments in the report about legal services being a potential risk to the progress of the projects had been accepted and acted upon as later presented to Members. This had included the implementation of investment and a restructure going through at the time, including the appointment of a Lead Principal Lawyer who is the advisor to the Committee normally present plus a programme the ongoing training of post-graduates to develop the in-house expertise and capability. There had been commissioned a review of the service conducted by external advisors over the summer of 2020. This had led to a procurement exercise to appoint a strategic legal partner for the regeneration portfolio of legal work. This had recently been completed with the appointment of Trowers and Hamlins. There remained, however, a recruitment issue within the Planning and Property Law Team which was operating at 60% vacancy levels, which had proved difficult to overcome despite HR recruitment best efforts over the intervening months and resulted in additional costs as expertise was purchased.
Councillor Tony Jones suggested having a standing item on future agendas to note the progress of legal services improvement plan.
Councillor Dave Mitchell requested a report to a future meeting on the ability to bring to the Chair and Spokespersons attention major issues that could cause a bottleneck could be progressed outside of the Committee cycle to see how Members could assist.
Councillor Andrew Hodson proposed an addition to the recommendations as a proposal, which was to refer inform the Audit and Risk Management Committee of the risk of legal services holding up the development programme.
This was seconded by Councillor Tony Jones.
Councillors then asked questions of the presentation and programme which established:
· That a summary of the presentation, and a briefing note on the new methods of sustainable construction being used, would be sent to all Members of the Council.
· The highest environmental standards were used in the design of office buildings and housing.
· Expertise and services are shared amongst the Liverpool City Region.
· Future reports on the programme could note the issues which could potentially derail progress.
· The proposed Maritime Knowledge Hub was intended as a resource an innovation site for the development of the maritime industry, including its decarbonisation.
Councillor Tony Jones moved the recommendations together with the additional referral.
These were seconded by Councillor Jerry Williams.
Resolved – That:
(1) the transformation and progress made in Wirral’s regeneration to date and the next steps be noted; and
(2) whilst we consider the Council’s legal department to be a risk with regard to the comments made with regard to derailing the regeneration programme, this should be passed to the Audit and Risk Management Committee for continued scrutiny whilst this is still a risk to the Council.
- ERD Presentation Oct report FINAL, item 45. PDF 76 KB
- ERD Regen overview October 2021 FINAL, item 45. PDF 634 KB