To consider any matter referred to the Committee for decision in relation to a call-in, in accordance with Article 6 (Overview and Scrutiny) of the Council’s Constitution.
(a) Release of Restrictive Covenants – Epping Forest College
The Cabinet Decision on 14 September 2020 was called-in by Councillors C C Pond (lead member), H Kauffman, S Murray, C Roberts and D Roberts. The following documents are attached for information:
· Cabinet report (C-017-2020/21);
· Call-in notification; and
· Call-in notes of informal meeting on 7 October 2020.
Following the report (C-017-2020/21) to Cabinet on 14 September 2020 that approved New City College (formerly Epping Forest College) be granted a “variation to the covenants further to previous removal of restrictive covenants, in order to facilitate the College’s plans for the site”, the decision was called-in by Councillors C C Pond, H Kauffman, S Murray, C Roberts and D Roberts. An informal meeting was held on 7 October 2020 between the lead call-in Councillor, C C Pond, Councillor A Patel (Commercial and Regulatory Services Portfolio Holder) and the Overview and Scrutiny Committee Chairman, Councillor M Sartin, and Vice-Chairman, Councillor B Jennings and relevant officers.
At the informal meeting it was noted that the covenants ran with the land and with the successors entitled to the land. Officers agreed that the point made on the use of the land for community purposes and a Wellness Centre was valid and they could ask that the contract include a community benefit such as a Wellness Centre. The Legal Services Manager, N Boateng, would seek to tie this in with the contract. She would draw up documents in liaison with Councillors C C Pond and A Patel. Councillor C C Pond agreed if this could be arranged then it should satisfy most of the points his members had raised. The call-in was put on hold but, as the College had not been willing to reciprocate, the call-in had come back to Overview and Scrutiny for a decision, in accordance with Article 6 (Overview and Scrutiny) of the Council’s Constitution. As some members felt that the procedure had not been made clear in the agenda, a motion to defer this decision to another meeting was taken, but the motion was lost.
Councillor C C Pond explained that at the informal meeting on 7 October (as detailed above) they had been close to achieving an agreement. This had stemmed from ten years ago when the College had sold the land where a community sports centre had been located for an old people’s home and benefitted financially. There had been negotiations between the College and Council officers to secure a replacement covenant for a sports centre and wellness centre, and grounds for the community. A ‘side letter’ between the Council and the College had allowed this to be carried out in perpetuity with the former owner of the College and the Council owed it to Loughton’s citizens. Councillor C C Pond suggested this matter be referred to Cabinet to negotiate a new covenant to protect the land, as Essex County Council had stated that there was no requirement for the land to be used for education in which case the College could argue that the need for the covenant was redundant and apply to the Lands Tribunal to release the covenant. Councillor A Patel had consented to go along this route. However, there had been a delay after the informal meeting waiting for a response from the College. Councillor C C Pond hoped that with a little more time a suitable settlement could be achieved.
Councillor D Dorrell asked if the land was handed back to the College and it did something other than a wellness centre, could it do what it wanted with the land and would the Council have any recourse? The Legal Services Manager replied the 2019 Deed of Release with the College was for residential and a wellness centre.
Councillor D Wixley confirmed that he had a copy of the ‘side letter’ (proposed by former Councillor Wagland) that stated that both the public and College could use the land. It went back to 2009 in relation to another covenant over the demolition of Debden Sports Centre where a care home had since been built. He would like to see the College comply with this, as it was crucial that the public had access to this facility. The concern was with Luctons Field where half the land was earmarked for housing, could the remaining open space be protected and preserved, and confirmed legally? The Legal Services Manager replied that in the Deed of Release there was use for public and the definition of this was wider than a sports centre as it included other community activities. Councillor J Philip advised that as this was also one of the Local Plan sites, it was detailed in the Local Plan Submission Version (LPSV) how much land could be used and how much would be preserved to 2033. Councillor D Wixley commented that the land was reasonably well protected then. Councillor C C Pond replied that there was still one unresolved issue that the future of the remaining open space was protected in perpetuity and he did not believe the LPSV did specify this in detail. In so far as the release of covenants, this can be released but a new covenant was required to provide assurance for the community and was a matter for discussion between the respective lawyers to come to an agreement. A vote to refer the call-in matter to Cabinet for further discussion to protect the future of the land for the community was successful. Councillor J Philip asked for a follow-up report to be submitted to the Cabinet meeting on 3 December 2020. Councillors A Patel and C C Pond would have a further discussion and that Councillor A Patel would approach the College again.
(1) That the recommendation be referred to Cabinet on 3 December 2020 over whether Epping Forest College be granted a variation to the covenants on the land further to previous removal of restrictive covenants, in order to facilitate the College’s plans for the site.