The meeting was held remotely using Zoom software.
PRESENT: Cllr. Fletcher (Chairman), Cllrs. Beck, Bunyan, Fairweather, Fermor, Gilbert, Hall, Hartley, Hatcher, Kings, Meewezen, Pethurst, Smith, Warne and Waters.
Borough Cllr. Dawlings, County and Borough Cllr. Holden.
The meeting was also attended by:
Jonathan White – Project Surveyor TWBC
Cllr. Mackonochie – Portfolio Holder for Communities and Wellbeing TWBC
Denise Haylett – Head of Facilities & Communities Hubs TWBC
Jackie Taylor-Smith – Strategic Manager, Business Development KCC
Approximately 54 Members of the Public.
The Chairman read out the following statement:
Members are required to declare any interests, dispensations or predetermination on items on this agenda in accordance with the Council’s Code of Conduct. Members are reminded that changes to the Register of Interests should be notified to the Clerk.
Cllr. Hartley advised the meeting that he has a Disclosable Pecuniary Interest, in that he has submitted a rival bid to the GP’s, offering an alternative site on which to develop a Medical Centre.
He has been granted a dispensation from the Parish Council to remain present during discussions regarding the Medical Centre but has accepted he will be excluded from any voting and from being present when commercially sensitive information is discussed.
120/20: Community Centre/Medical Centre – Outline Business Case
The Chairman gave a precis of the project to date and what is hoped can be achieved.
The Overview is as follows:
The project has been ongoing for many years – since 1978 according to one parishioner.
The generosity of the land donation, and the purchase of the Tanyard Dental Surgery gives the Parish Council a large tract of land for the centre and parking.
Previous projects fell at the finance hurdle.
The stars are aligned, with land, political will (the TWBC local plan, NDP and Parish) and finance through an anchor tenant – the NHS.
Socially this increases the opportunities for the community to get together, rekindling old societies, creating new ones and giving existing ones a home.
It improves parishioners’ access to a wider range of medical services
It ensures a continued library and Registration service, open for longer hours.
All bar one of the councillors live in the Parish and pay the precept. We have no wish to increase local tax, so a key driver has been to build with no increase in the precept.
We believe most parishioners do not want to go to Headcorn or Staplehurst to see their GP. Our current facilities are not appropriate for mass vaccination.
The NHS pays the rent for multiple GP surgeries, and these are often built by Investment companies, as the NHS is seen as the best possible tenant. Should an investment company build the centre, all the profit and margin will leave the parish. If the Parish build it, on our own land, then the income benefits the Parish for as long as it stands and the commercial rent pays for the mortgage loan.
The Parish can borrow from the Public Works Loan board, at fixed rates for up to 50 years.
A demonstration showed the project was financially feasible, while still not touching the current £50,000 per year being set aside for the centre from local tax.
A professional team of project managers will run the project from the start, with the Parish being the client and paymaster, not the site manager. We have the skills to be the client.
He explained that it is the first time the project has evidence to support the figures. Because anchor tenants in the form of the GP surgeries and KCC libraries have been identified, any loan necessary to deliver the building will be almost entirely covered by their rental payments. He shared the screen displaying the government’s Debt Management Office webpage where he entered a loan figure of £5m, which showed a repayment cost over 50 years of £154K per annum. Based on the space requirement for a medical centre, the loan repayment costs would be covered by the rental income received from the NHS. There is already £45K per year allocated from the current precept figures, plus £5K for the provision of public toilets, which are to be included in the Centre so there should be no necessity to increase the precept in order to deliver the project. We benefit already from having Jonathan White – TWBC Project Surveyor on the management team along with several of our own Councillors that have experience in delivering large projects. He invited questions from Members.
In response to Cllr. Warne, Jonathan White confirmed that any lease agreement with the NHS would be subject to rent increases every five years and although variable rate loans are available, the Parish Council is more likely to opt for a fixed rate loan for the entire 50 years based on a favourable fixed rate of 1.86% available through the PWLB. These rates are subject to change depending on when the loan is taken out. If there is still a surplus in the figures after the rental agreement is approved, Members could make a decision to reduce the time over which the loan is repaid. Cllr. Meewezen added that borrowing at 1.86% which is below the current rate of inflation makes for a strong economic case.
Cllr. Fairweather expressed concern at what would happen if the anchor tenants surrendered their leases after 25 years and would there be any constraints to prevent retail or commercial enterprise taking on a lease. He was also aware that the £400K grant from TWBC needs to be repaid if a Community Centre is not built and that this scenario should be included in the risk assessment.
The Chairman confirmed that the constraints related to construction access and lasted for ten years, which was now nine as one year had already passed. As long as we build within that time, we will have continued rights to access that land. Jonathan White added that any changes to the use of the building would be subject to the relevant planning conditions, however he felt it extremely unlikely that either KCC libraries or the NHS would want pull out after 25 years as they are more likely to want to extend their tenancy in order to obtain the maximum return on their investment. Cllr. Meewezen confirmed that no rental increases had been built into the figures and if it is increased by the standard rate of inflation, the rental income would almost double over 25 years allowing for the option of repaying the loan early
Cllr. Hatcher asked for confirmation on what commitment the GP’s have made to date. The Chairman advised we have been working with the West Kent Clinical Commissioning Group and the District Valuer and our site is the preferred location for a medical centre due to its size and location. The NHS are not going to fund individual surgeries in the future, so the option of the current surgeries continuing will not be viable.
Cllr. Smith felt it hugely important that good consultation is essential when taking on this type of financial obligation. He also wanted to know if we intend to conduct a poll to gauge support for taking out a loan. The Chairman confirmed that legally no poll is required unless the precept needs to be raised and that is not necessary in this case. He did agree that consultation is massively important. Jonathan White explained how Paddock Wood have undertaken this.
Cllr. Smith remained firm in his belief that whether or not a poll is a legal requirement we should still undertake one to ensure everyone is behind the project.
Cllr. Pethurst stated that as he believed it, the current GP’s in the town were close to retirement and that the Medical Centre was needed to encourage young GP’s to the area. He raised concern that what if we do build and they still do not come? Jonathan White confirmed that at present the GP’s in Cranbrook all held individual contracts, but WKCCG will take on the contract to provide GP services.
Cllr. Hall raised concern that this project would follow the failure of the Calverley Square Project due to a lack of consultation and mandate. She also felt that the Medical Centre would be used by people from surrounding parishes but the loan and risk would be solely the responsible of Cranbrook & Sissinghurst parishioners. The Chairman and Cllr. Meewezen reiterated that the rental income from WKCCG is expected to more than cover any loan repayments even without including any rent increases.
In response to Cllr. Bunyan, both the Chairman and Jonathan White confirmed that unless WKCCG and the KCC Libraries agree to take on the respective leases, their requirements could not be factored into any build. The Chairman also confirmed we would not move forward to build until we had signed contracts from them but we cannot get those until we have progressed to RIBA stage 4.
The meeting was closed to allow members of the public to ask questions.
Q: Given the location of the site, is it envisaged that the building will be a single storey and has any thought been given to the visual impact of what will be built?
A: We will be going to architects to design a building with the land area available, which will need to fulfill our requirements, be ECO friendly and low maintenance. Any design will need approval of the Planning Authority.
Q: The plan to include a medical centre was whole heartly endorsed. Speaking as an ex medical professional, single surgeries are no longer viable. What consideration has been given to sufficient parking for a medical centre?
A: That is one of the reasons the Parish Council purchased the Tanyard Dental Surgery. We are also working closely with WKCCG on size specification and to ensure we have suitable drop off points in addition to allocated parking for the Medical Centre.
Due to his Disclosable Pecuniary Interest and subsequent dispensation, Cllr. Hartley was able to make the following comment during the public session:
Cllr. Hartley believed the Parish Council should not be using the publicly subsidised PWLB to finance a medical centre or consider building it on community land. In his opinion the business plan ignores the capacity of the Vestry Hall due to its listed status. He does not believe public money should be used to provide things that private enterprise can also provide and thinks the Parish Council are using cheap public borrowing to achieve a good revenue stream.
Q: Revenue and running costs are a concern especially if a major refurbishment is required over the 50 year life span of the loan.
A: None of the additional housing being created into Cranbrook has been taken into account as a funding source and neither has rental income from hire of the community space. Lifecycle costings will be built in going forward.
Q: Sincere thanks to the team and the Parish Council as a whole for such a comprehensive overview in the Business Plan. A question on funds already earmarked for the project was raised.
A: Figures were confirmed, including the grant from TWBC, some of which had already been used to purchase the Tanyard Dental Surgery.
Comment: Further thanks to everyone involved in the project with a heartfelt plea to “Get on with it”. This project will bring people to Cranbrook.
Comment: Cllr. Mackonochie from TWBC stated it was a pleasure to listen to all the comments being made this evening, a lot of people had put in a great deal of work to get to this point.
Comment: Cranbrook should be proud to have a medical centre. Providing community space for the elderly to meet socially and enjoy lunches was very important. Following the closure of the old council offices, there has not been anywhere suitable identified and there are many elderly people that are lonely, which has been further highlighted by the lockdown. Age Concern will be looking to make a substantial donation should the project go ahead.
The meeting was re-opened
The Chairman proposed that due to commercial sensitivity that the public, which includes the press, be excluded from the remainder of this meeting on the grounds that publicity would be prejudicial to the public interest by reason of the confidential nature of the business to be transacted”. This was seconded by Cllr. Gilbert and agreed.
The Chairman also proposed that the meeting be extended beyond the two hour limit to ensure Members were given sufficient time to consider the confidential item. This was seconded by Cllr. Meewezen and agreed.
121/20: Community Centre/Medical Centre – Detailed Finances of Outline Business Case:
The minutes for this item are recorded separately.