On 4th September, Colchester Borough Council’s LibDem & Labour Cabinet reviewed the performance of their jointly owned North Essex Garden Communities Ltd, which has run out of money. The Company is jointly owned by Colchester, Braintree and Tendring Councils, and Essex County Council. Its purpose is to developing several New Town, including those at at East Colchester and at Great Tey. The Company has asked each Council to provide a further £350,000 to keep it going for the remainder of the financial year.
Cllr Paul Dundas, Conservative spokesperson on company matters, described the Garden Communities Company as a “dud”. If the company took its Interim Business case to any of the High Street banks for a loan, they would be shown the door without even a cup of coffee. It is that risky.”
He described it as astonishing that the Garden Communities Company should be presenting its Interim Business case half-way through its current financial year, with most of its money already spent. Cllr Dundas added “In Local Government and most commercial companies, Annual Business cases and operating plan are agreed in advance of the financial year to which they pertain. I see no good reason why this Company should be the exception, just because it is attempting to build new towns.”
Cllr Jackie Maclean, Conservative spokesperson on Highways, told Colchester’s Cabinet “In two and a half years, The Garden Community Company has got through £7.6million of taxpayers money, money that would have been better spent of essential Council services. So far the Company has one employee (its Chief Executive), no agreed business Plan, no land deals or options signed for any of the New Town land, and no clear vision of the delivery mechanisms for its grandiose scheme of 30,000 houses.”
The Company seems incapable of progressing until the Government Planning Inspector rules on the way forward for the Local Plan. So in essence it was set up 3 years too early. It has been marking time at a cost of £7.6m.
The Conservative Group demanded that no further cash should be given to the Garden Community Company. While the Cabinet was ambivalent on the matter, it agreed to refer the matter for decision at a full meeting of the Colchester Council so that all Councillors could participate in the decision, not just the LibDem and Labour Groups.