Council denies 'influence' cash over Jesmond Avenue site in Highcliffe
BCP Council has denied claims it promised hundreds of thousands of pounds to Highcliffe and Walkford Parish Council should a controversial development be approved.
It was suggested by a local councillor that money from a condition on the Jesmond Avenue site had been pledged to the parish council – raising concerns it could influence a decision on plans for the site, writes Josh Wright of the Local Democracy Reporting Service.
But this has been dismissed by BCP Council which said that “no decision had been made and that the money would be spent on projects benefitting the entire conurbation”.
The condition – known as an overage clause – was inherited by BCP Council on its creation in 2019. It had been agreed between Dorset County Council and current landowner Boyland and Son.
The clause will give BCP a share of the profit of any development of the land, which in 1964 was bought by Hampshire County Council through a compulsory purchase order for a bypass.
The site was bought back by Boyland and Son, the previous owner, in 2017 for redevelopment after the road plan was abandoned.
Through its subsidiary Brentland Ltd, the developer has applied for planning permission to build 23 homes. The scheme has attracted more than 100 letters of objection, and the Woodland Trust has warned the land could be unmapped ancient woodland.
Despite this, work was carried out last week to clear much of the undergrowth while a separate application to cut down several trees has also been submitted.
Now concerns have been raised that BCP Council has already promised all the earnings of the overage clause to Highcliffe and Walkford Parish Council. It is estimated this could amount to about £300,000.
Cllr Lesley Dedman, who represents the Mudeford, Stanpit and West Highcliffe ward, claimed funding had been promised to the area by BCP leader Cllr Drew Mellor and said she was worried the council could be seen as not being impartial.
“I’m aware, via a lot of residents, that Cllr Mellor has said this money will come back to the parish,” she said. “I’m very concerned that the implication is now that we have an interest in approving that development.
“The situation was that any money would go into a central pot. People would not expect it to come just to the parish.”
A council spokesperson confirmed it would “benefit” from an overage payment should the plans be approved but said there had been “no decision” on how it would be spent.
“The reason for an overage payment is to ensure the council receives best value when selling its land,” the spokesperson said. “It is entirely separate from the planning process and is no indication that planning permission would be granted.
“Any money received from sales of council property, including overage, is for the benefit of the whole of the area.”