Did they or didn’t ‘Your Waverley approve a budget of £1,96m to convert a Godalming High Street Store it bought earlier this year for £2,634?
That is the question.
The Council met at an Extraordinary meeting to take the next step in deciding the future of the former M & Co high street store to boost its finances and help boost the high street.
Led by Cllr Jerry Hyman last night, councillors only avoided going behind closed doors by two votes, 18 to 16, with four abstentions to decide the next step. He claimed it was in the public interest that the debate and decision should be in open session. The Council was embarking on a commercial venture with the ratepayer’s money, in total over £4m.
However, the doors were closed to the press and public.
Cllr Hyman said: I opposed the purchase 18 months ago – I was the only member of this council to do so. I am very worried. I cannot support this when all the risk is being dumped on the Housing Revenue account. We do not have the skill set. Look what has happened elsewhere like Woking. We should be discussing this in public.
until a deal is demonstrated, I won’t be supporting this and I dont want to move into Exempt.
Of course, the enormous retail elephant in the room is not in Godalming but in Farnham. Brightwells Yard. We are supposed to ignore its vast emptiness and its long-term costs—the noose around the borough and county council’s necks.
Cllr Christopher Murray said his concern was the tenant had been given such advantageous terms below the commercial rate as an anchor tenant.
He said he didn’t have such power with his landlord, which was the same with most commercial tenants.
This is a dangerous strategy to regenerate High Streets. The terms we are proposing may force other struggling businesses out of business. or it could, If anyone finds out how advantageous this is, other new businesses coming in will want the same advantageous terms.
Has anyone considered this? Once this state intervention happens, it skews the market. This tenant may be a winner, but others may be the losers.
Cllr Peter Clarke accepted that some members are opposed to high street intervention. Nobody else is going to help the high St. If we don’t. Local members would jump at this opportunity if it arose in Farnham, Cranleigh or Haslemere. All it has to do is pay for itself. The balance is to be struck here. Deliver this on time and on budget.
Cllr Nick Williams made an impassioned plea to support the scheme.
Our existing Corp Strategy commits this Council to build genuinely affordable housing and reinvigorate High Streets across the borough. What we are considering is following through what we have begun. A conversation with one of the former tenants of a hugely successful outlet in Godalming that was squeezed by the pandemic and ever-increasing rents to landlords motivated by profit and profit alone underlined this. We have an opportunity to change this.
High Streets are dying because of high rents and unsympathetic landlords. I wouldn’t want to be part of a council to let these things happen. I want to do my best in my local community, however constrained we might be by ongoing cuts in central Government funding. I would be negligent in my duties to my community if I didn’t support it.
The Executive recommends to Council the approval of a budget of £230,000 (Exempt Annexe 2), to be met from the Asset Investment Reserve, to progress phase 1 of the revised project.
This will deliver the project’s commercial element to RIBA Stage 4 (the detailed design stage) and enable the submission of a planning application for the retail unit. Page 5 4 2.2 the approval of an overall capital budget of £1.96 million (including the £230,000 referred to above), as per the breakdown in Exempt Appendix 4, to cover the anticipated cost of the capital works to the commercial unit, with delegation to Executive to approve the final budget once tender returns for the construction contract have been received.