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If we have to sell, get the best deal

25 June, 2020 — By John Gulliver

Artist’s impression of Brill Place tower

THE council or the public – depending on who you believe owns the land in Camden – are sitting on some of the most expensive land in the UK and do not make the best use of their wealth.

Critics of the council have known this for sometime. But the controversy over the monstrous tower block about to built in congested Somers Town may have reignited a debate following my piece last week.

Steve Adams, an architect and Conser­vative councillor for Belsize Park has been in contact with a fellow councillor who spoke at the Zoom meeting of the planning committee. He had also received a letter published on the subject in the New Journal.

The offshore company that is believed to have bought the council-owned site for £17.5m applied to build extra floors because, they argued, they could not make “viability” out of the building unless they were able to sell more flats. These would be luxury private flats, of course selling for millions.

It is not clear whether the purchaser’s claim was forensically tested by Town Hall officials or, in some way, taken at face value. If it had been properly audited this did not seem clear to councillors.

Cllr Steve Adams

Now Cllr Adams has come up with an idea whose time has surely come. When the council sell sites for redevelopment why don’t they make agreements with developers whereby final sale prices, perhaps agreed in principle in the early stages of negotiation, would be finalised at the end when all “value” in the building is extracted from sale prices.

At present, the purchaser puts forward a price based on putative figures worked out by accountants, architects and builders as to what is a “viable” price for all parties.

Quite often, the developer sells the residential units for a much higher price than mooted at the time of purchase, and Camden councillors are left with a bad feeling while the public say: “We told you so!”

So, why not delay completion of contract? This makes sense. Of course, it would mean a deferment of the deal for two or three years but the council would find itself a far greater beneficiary than it does at the moment when the purchaser pleads “loss of viability” winning over pliant officials and planning committee members who often find themselves lost in the arguments.

This would give the council millions of pounds extra.

I am against the sale of council-owned land without public permission on philosophical grounds but at least if it is to be sold the best deal should be brought off!

One of the problems is that the planning committee has not grown in status, as it were, while the value of land has exploded in the property boom since the 1970s.

It is, in fact, one of the most important committees and whoever is in power does not seem to be aware of this.

At one level, dealing with neighbourly squabbles over back garden extensions or basement developments, it can function. But when it comes to the “big boys” in finance it is often at their mercy especially in the last few years.

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