ECCLESHALL PARISH COUNCIL – Extra Meeting July 24th, 2019

An extra ordinary meeting of Eccleshall Parish Council was held on July 24th, 2019 at Eccleshall Community Centre, at 7.30pm.

130/19). Present were:– Councillor P. Jones (Chairman); Councillor R. Langford
Councillor R. Taylor; Councillor E. Amos
Councillor J. Leather; Councillor C. Marshall
Councillor J. Jones; Councillor P. Stenning
Councillor L. Dale; Councillor S. Mifflin
Councillor P. Edwards; Councillor B. Delanchy

Borough and County Councillor Pert
Mrs S.J. Worden (Clerk)
6 members of the public

Apologies were received and accepted from Councillor Watson.

131/19). To consider Declarations of Interest and Councillor requests for dispensation relating to items on the agenda. There were no requests to receive, and no declarations of interest were made.

132/19). To consider opportunities generated by the upcoming sale of the Police Station:

Following on from an initial discussion at the Parish Council meeting on the 17th July, the Parish Council convened the meeting to allow for in depth discussion and understanding of the following:
• Options for involvement, either as a Parish Council or part of a Community Interest Company
• Benefits, risks and financial implications to Parish finances and the community
• To discuss actions and timeline required for each proposal to determine feasibility
• To resolve the level of involvement, if any, and to clarify any next steps

The Parish Council outlined there were three main options for consideration:
1. To bid for outright purchase of the site by the Council
2. To invest and become a third shareholder in a Community Interest Company, a not for profit company which would own the site and generate income for re-investment in the community
3. To not be involved in any plans for the purchase of the property and use its finances towards other projects.

There was a lengthy discussion of the options available. Key points included:
Outright Purchase:
• A business paper was circulated and proposed outright purchase by taking out a Public Works Loan to cover the costs involved. An example was based on a loan for £200,000 in lieu of a formal evaluation.
• A full repairing lease would be negotiated for a business to take over the building and provide an income for the Council to use that would repay the loan and generate surplus to support future community projects.
• Around 10 car parking spaces will be for traders on a monthly paid permit scheme, to retain the existing provision.
• If the property was not leased, contingency would need to be in place to cover the loan repayments in full, which would be reflected in an increase in the precept. The loan example was based on a 30-year period so would be a significant commitment and a total repayment of around £280k.
• If the property was subsequently sold, all proceeds would be returned to the Parish Council.
• Full liability and costs would rest with the Council.
• A key concern with this proposal is that completion of the property is planned for the end of 2019. Following a proposed timeline which includes due diligence with regards to the decision-making process, public approval via consultation and loan applications, this means that it could be January before an offer could be made, so there is a risk of missing an opportunity to be involved.

Partnership in a Community Interest Company:
• The Parish Council will be required to invest a start up sum of money in order for the other partners to seek matching investments, grants and loans which will make up the purchase price of the property.
• The money will be invested in the property as a third of the asset. It will not be repayable as a loan but will be released upon any sale so will not be lost and may well be returned with profit.
• The Parish Council will be a third partner with the Borough Council and representatives from local traders in a limited company, and members will be nominated onto the board with voting rights on decisions.
• The amount invested will be significantly lower than the full purchase price, although any profit will not be returned to the Parish Council to cover the investment.
• However, the model of the CiC is that it will generate income which, as a ‘not for profit’ company, must be re-invested in the community.
• No investment figures have been confirmed but a nominal amount of £20-£25,000 was used in any calculations.
• There will be less financial exposure for public funds, but a plan is needed to recoup the investment. A shorter 5-year recovery plan will work to replace funds lost, which will involve potentially reducing budgets and a nominal precept increase in addition to any inflation costs.
• Collaborative working will reduce individual liability and allow benefit from each member’s area of expertise.
• The CiC will be in a position to meet the purchase timeline, even allowing for the Parish Council to complete a public consultation to establish levels of support.

Either of these options will retain the property as an asset for the community and will help to generate funds to support community initiatives.

It was also noted that both options will need to be put forward for community consultation.

No involvement in any plans for the property:
• If the Parish Council was not involved it could spend its time and money on other projects identified as important to the community.
• Both purchase proposals will result in a reduction in future budgets to balance either the loan repayments or investment outlay along with potential precept increases. This will result in some restriction to Council activities and the instigation of new projects or extending current services.
• Due to a lack of detailed information and the pressing deadlines, some members felt this may be the only option to consider at this time.

Due to the impending deadlines and need to progress with plans, if the Council wished to be involved with the police station property in any way, there was a need to select the preferred option to proceed with as it would be unable to progress both routes of purchase and partnership.

Any agreement on the preferred option would be subject to a final proposal and decision to proceed when all information on formal property evaluations, community consultation feedback and other key information was available for consideration.

The Parish Council considered the 3 options of outright purchase, partnership purchase via a CiC or no involvement.
3 members were in favour of outright purchase of the Police Station.
5 members were in favour of exploring a partnership in a CiC to purchase the Police Station.
3 members were in favour of no involvement in purchasing the Police Station.

Parish Council Standing Orders do not provide for clear determination where 3 options are available and as such this does not provide an absolute majority view. In the absence of definitive rules on a vote for 3 options, the indicative vote shows a preference to explore the CiC route, but any final decision will need to be made on the basis of clear resolution by the Council on the terms of the voting and a final vote to determine the decision of the Council on how it wishes to proceed.

The following steps were identified prior to final resolution to approve:

• Cllrs. Leather and Edwards will be part of a working party to set up the terms of business within the Articles of Association, for consideration by the Council.
• If the Articles of Association are on acceptable terms, including but not limited to the scope of the company, security of any investment, use of income generate and voting rights, the Council can then consider a clear proposal for approval.
• The working group will need to confirm how much money the Parish Council will need to invest so that risk and impact can be assessed and approved. In order to meet the deadlines, this may involve convening an additional Council meeting (3 clear working days’ notice of a meeting must be given to comply with legislation).
• Once this level of detail is in place and agreed, residents can be consulted with a clear proposal.
• Results of the consultation will be reviewed and at this point, a final decision can be made on whether to proceed.
• During the process, local business partners and Borough Councillor Pert will be looking into other sources of funding.

133/19). Meeting Close:-

There being no further business, the Chairman declared the meeting closed at 9.00pm.