Decision details

Development of the Minster Quarter

Decision status: For Determination

Is Key decision?: No

Is subject to call in?: No

Decisions:

The Executive Director of Economic Growth and Neighbourhood Services submitted a report seeking approval for a proposed approach to the development of the Minster Quarter, and specifically to proceed to prepare the site for sale by way of a Development Agreement as the preferred delivery vehicle, and to appoint a professional team to support this process.  The report also set out details of funding opportunities including a bid to the Brownfield Land Release Fund which, if successful, would support the delivery of the Council’s ambitions for the Minster Quarter.  Attached to the report at Appendix 1 was a summary of the history of the Minster Quarter Site.

 

The report noted that the Minster Quarter represented one of Reading’s major town centre development opportunities with the potential to deliver a number of the Council’s aspirations for the town centre and wider borough.  The pandemic had highlighted the need for a flexible, versatile town centre offer based on a mix of uses in an attractive public realm with generous access to public open space, and the renewal of the Minster Quarter offered the opportunity to deliver this based on a vision for high quality, high density, mixed use development which leveraged the historical associations of the area to enhance new residential, retail, commercial, cultural and environmental opportunities.

 

The report explained that soft market testing had been carried out and a high-level appraisal undertaken in November 2020. This had concluded that the viability gap was ‘manageable’ and that the project should therefore proceed to the next stage.  Following an Options Appraisal Report, and legal advice to establish the most appropriate route to delivery, it was recommended that the site be taken to market for sale incorporating a Development Agreement.  This was due to a combination of factors but most notably to minimise the Council’s risk in the process and limit the Council’s investment in the project to the value of the land and cost of the tender process.

 

The report explained that in order to take the scheme forward it was recommended that a professional team be appointed to lead the sale of Minster Quarter by way of a development agreement.  The team would provide a detailed delivery strategy with recommendations to take the site to market alongside viability assessments.  The report sought approval to tender for the team and appoint commercial and legal advisers and authority for officers to allocate spending from approved regeneration capital budgets for preparation of the site for market, the procurement of professional services and other costs associated with the development.  Progress would be reported to the Civic Board.

 

The report also set out details of an application to the Brownfield Land Release Fund (BLRF) fund, which would support some of the site demolition and servicing costs which were currently affecting the site’s viability.  The bid had been submitted under delegated authority by the Chief Executive in consultation with the Chief Financial Officer, Leader and Deputy Leader of the Council as permitted by the Council’s constitution, due to the tight deadline for responses which had made it impractical to submit a report to the relevant Committee prior to submission of a bid.

 

The report noted that the Levelling Up Fund was a further central government funding initiative focussed on providing improved infrastructure and connectivity.  Officers had previously considered making a bid to the Levelling Up Fund to support the acquisition and delivery of Reading Gaol prior to the Ministry of Justice rejecting the Council’s bid in May 2021.  A Levelling Up Fund bid to support the delivery of Minster Quarter would now be considered, and the report sought authority for the Chief Executive, in consultation with the Chief Financial Officer and the Leader and Deputy Leader of the Council, to submit bids for relevant funding streams including the Levelling Up Fund.

 

Resolved:

 

(1)      That the Executive Director of Economic Growth and Neighbourhood Services be authorised to tender for a professional advisory team to take Minster Quarter to market for sale by way of a Development Agreement;

 

(2)      That the submission of a bid to the Brownfield Land Release Fund, submitted by the deadline of 2 June 2021 under delegated authority by the Chief Executive in consultation with the Chief Financial Officer, Leader and Deputy Leader of the Council as permitted by the Council’s constitution clause 9.3.1 (3) be noted;

 

(3)      That the Chief Executive, in consultation with the Chief Financial Officer and the Leader and Deputy Leader of the Council, be authorised to submit bids for other relevant funding streams, including The Levelling Up Fund;

 

(4)      That the Chief Executive be authorised to spend up to £250,000 from approved regeneration capital budgets for preparation of the site for market, procurement of professional services and other costs associated with the development;

 

(5)      That the the Assistant Director of Legal and Democratic Services be authorised to appoint the commercial and legal advisors for the project;

 

(6)      That it be noted that progress would be reported to the Civic Board.

Publication date: 15/07/2021

Date of decision: 14/06/2021

Decided at meeting: 14/06/2021 - Policy Committee

Accompanying Documents: