Receipt of Announcements
To receive any announcements from The Chairman, Leader, Members of the Cabinet or the Head of Paid Service.
Chair of the Council
The Chair of the Council, Councillor Julian Cooper, welcomed all members and officers to the meeting.
The Chair was pleased to announce that the Mayor of Woodstock, Ontario, Canada was in attendance for the meeting, and that the Mayor’s presence was gratefully received by all members.
The Chair congratulated Councillor Harry St. John on his recent marriage.
The Chair was also delighted to formally welcome Max Thompson to the post of Senior Democratic Services Officer for the Council, and that Max was very welcome to West Oxfordshire District Council.
The Chair announced the cancellation of a reception on Sunday 7 May 2023 owing to both commitments to the Coronation of His Majesty King Charles III, and financial constraints.
The Chair reminded Members that they were all invited to a presentation with Simon Hoare MP, Member of Parliament for North Dorset, former Member of West Oxfordshire District Council, and Chair of the Northern Ireland Select Committee on 10 March 2023. The presentation will discuss the future of the Ulster province.
The Chair finished by reminding members of two presentations that would take place after the close of the Council meeting – Firstly from the Chief Constable of Thames Valley Police and also the Thames Valley Police & Crime Commissioner, and a further officer briefing to members on the Elections Act.
Leader of the Council
The Leader of the Council, Councillor Andy Graham, updated members on progress with the recruitment of a permanent Director of Governance (Monitoring Officer) for the Council. There had been a ‘healthy’ response to the job advertisement, with suitable candidates lined up for Interviews.
The Performance and Appointments Committee, in conjunction with Senior Officers, would soon meet to conduct these Interviews, and would then be expected to make a recommendation to Council in February 2023, for the appointment of a new Director of Governance (Monitoring Officer) for the Council. The current arrangement with Oxford City Council would cease in March, but could be extended further, but would only be done so if appropriate.
The Leader also confirmed, as a result of a question from Councillor Andrew Coles, Vice Chair of the Council, that this would be a West Oxfordshire District Council only position.
The Leader also committed to writing to the Leader of the Opposition, Councillor Michele Mead, to advise of the financial implications that would incur if the current arrangement was extended.
Deputy Leader of the Council
The Deputy Leader of the Council, Councillor Duncan Enright, made the following statement regarding Marriott’s Walk Shopping Centre in Witney:
“Councillors may have seen the press release last Friday announcing the completion of the acquisition of Marriott’s Walk in Witney by the Council.
The Council has owned the freehold of Marriott’s since before it was built, having assembled the site in the first decade of the new millennium. It remains one of the most significant regeneration projects carried out by the Council, in partnership with Simons Developments.
Whilst the Council initially had first refusal to acquire the leasehold upon its completion back in 2009, it chose not to do so given the cost of the acquisition, and instead invested in a broader range of commercial property, both within and outside the district. This strategy has served the Council well over the years.
Almost fifteen years on, the centre, like many retail areas, is facing challenges with empty units and softening rental tones. Perhaps more importantly, the lack of a local voice in the running of the centre has been a major concern for the Council for some time, and therefore when the opportunity arose to marry together the freehold and leasehold again, it felt like an opportunity worth pursuing.
In line with the Council’s published Investment Strategy, we utilised the strength and depth of our Councillor & officer resources via the cross party Capital Programme Investment Board, and I am indebted to that group for steering the due diligence process supported by key expert external advisors CBRE and Bevan Brittan.
I know some members of the public were surprised by this announcement, but I hope they will recognise that you cannot conduct commercially confidential negotiations and discussions in public, without having an adverse impact on the outcome for the taxpayer who, of course, funds this. I will add that the transaction is entirely in line with our published Investment Strategy to reinvigorate our market towns.
In the interests of transparency I can advise the Council, that the sum paid for the centre was £9.16m plus normal acquisition and due diligence costs – significantly less than the sum discussed at Cabinet in July 2022, and less than a third of the price paid by the original investors in the site back in 2009.
This is a good investment for the Council and more importantly the price paid will allow us to invest further in the site, to bring all the units back into use and reactivate the public spaces within the scheme.
This is good news for the Council, good news for the retailers, not just on Marriott’s Walk, but across the whole of Witney town and, hopefully, the whole District. This is good news for the whole of West Oxfordshire and, no, we will not be introducing car parking charges within the centre to finance this.
But we will be looking at all sorts of ways to reinvigorate Marriott’s Walk for the Witney town, and we also hope to make it a space for everyone to enjoy.”