Waverley closed its doors to decide the future of High Street venture.

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.

The following steps for a Godalming High Street store.

Here’s the voting doughnut to determine whether the decision should be in an open session.
The Executive claims that making small but serious acquisitions like this and actively supporting the high streets while Government cash dwindles year after year is the only way the Council can increase its revenue to support local services. The scheme aligns with its objective to build more homes and support Waverley’s High Streets.
The 68 High St site has a lapsed planning consent for eight homes and commercial units.
Cllr Peter Martin said he was dead against a flawed scheme from the outset. It had already lost £1m on the property. He called for an external appraisal to place the loss on the public record.
until a deal is demonstrated, I won’t be supporting this and I dont want to move into Exempt. 
Cllr Follows said the Council had lost nothing as it had no intention of selling the site, now or in the future – it was a good deal for Godalming & Waverley. He said members should look at the recent profit warning from Crest Nicholson – the developer of the Brightwells Site in Farnham.
As Clifford Jones said recently about a decision made by the former Tory-controlled council on the WW comments page.
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 Michael Goodridge argued the Council should not be making speculative commercial developments. When the purchase was completed in May 2022, the Council must have been aware of the problems prompted by the  Ukranian War and COVID, but it just carried on. He claimed the objective of building affordable homes had been delayed and kicked into the long grass and how it could contribute to the high street when it had not signed up a prospective tenant. He wanted the deal with a tenant tied up before going any further.
This was rebuffed by Cllr Liz Townsend, who asked: How can we sign up a tenant when we don’t have the decision we have come here for tonight? 
When this was done, a lease with a chosen tenant would be signed before Christmas.
Cllr Victoria Kiehl welcomed support for the local economy. There were vast gaps in our High St with other shops needing attention. A few more businesses had recently opened, prompting an increase in footfall. We must set the right conditions for high streets to succeed, and sustainable housing for local people is vital.
Cllr Janet Crowe. Said the scheme addressed both issues. Housing and regeneration of Godalming High St. There are 1,180 people on our housing lists. These proposals underpin those objectives.

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 Recommendations

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.






One thought on “Waverley closed its doors to decide the future of High Street venture.”

  1. “WE DO NOT HAVE THE SKILL SET” wise words.

    High streets are dying because of insufficient footfall. Hopefully the councillors were aware of “the unintended consequences of more than a decade of easy money are still lurking in the wings. The soft landing doesn’t mean the economy is ready for take-off. It just means the final verdict on this era of unprecedented experimentation in economic policy has yet to be delivered.”

    Unless an asset return exceeds its cost of capital and the Bank of England interest rate it is unlikely to be liquid and provide value for money. Without fulfilling the Government policy for transparency the democratic legitimacy for this decision can be argued absent.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.