Decision on way over Kirk Michael land swap deal

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A TYNWALD select committee inquiry into the Kirk Michael land swap deal does not need to complete its work before the planning application is determined, the Chief Minister has ruled.

The call for the select committee to be allowed to complete its work before accepting any positive recommendation from the independent planning inspector was made in Tynwald by Michael MHK Alfred Cannan.

But Chief Minister Allan Bell MHK said he could not agree to the request because the select committee’s work is historic in nature, the legislation does not provide for a hold to be put on the process and there is no requirement to own the land subject to a planning application.

Tynwald voted overwhelmingly in November for the select committee to continue its inquiry after an email surfaced from Charles Buster Lewin, subsequently convicted of vote rigging, who claimed his former employer Heritage Homes had deliberately misled the committee.

The Michael MHK said there were very serious issues that were directly relevant to the application.

Mr Bell replied that the unproven allegations made are ‘entirely separate’ from the planning application itself.

It has since emerged that Mr Lewin has sent a second email to the select committee in which he makes further allegations.

The select committee has yet to announce whether it is to take oral evidence or further written evidence from Mr Lewin.

Heritage Homes’ planning application (12/00573/B) to build a development of 95 dwellings – with associated infrastructure, new school field and playground, public open space and landscaping on land beside the primary school submitted in April 2012 – is still to be determined.

The application has been heard by an independent planning inspector who will make her recommendations to the Council of Ministers. Her report will first be sent to the chief secretary’s office who schedule it for a time for CoMin to consider and determine the outcome.

Heritage Homes’ initial plan (11/01250/B) for the same site for 100 dwellings – with associated infrastructure, new school field and playground, public open space and landscaping – was refused in February 2012.

It was turned down after the CoMin agreed with an independent planning inspector that the plan be refused.

In his report, the inspector Alan Langton said: ‘I recommend against this scheme, both on its own merits and because the road access should be determined only following a firm decision one way or the other regarding a bypass.’

Prior to the determination of this plan Tynwald agreed, in August 2011, to the Department of Education and Children (DEC) entering into a land swap deal with the developer and landowner Pinecrest Investments.

Under the land swap deal – which remains in place – the DEC will convey 0.63 acres of Michael School’s corner field to the landowner, to afford access to a new housing development. In return, the department will receive 2.01 acres of land to the north and east (rear) of the school site from the landowner.

The developer will create a new sports pitch, hard play area and boundary works, including ball-stop fencing, boundary fencing, gates, walls, ramps, paths and landscaping at no cost to the DEC.

Land will also be kept clear for the future enlargement of the school.

The Tynwald select committee investiagtion into the deal, set up in Feburary 2012 following a call from Michael MHK Alfred Cannan, found the deal represented value for money.

The report states the department’s negotiation position had weakened between January 2007 and October 2010, adding: ‘Through negotiation the department succeeded in restoring its position to the extent that the net benefit which the department could expect under the agreement of August 2011 was as good as, or better than, that which might have been expected in 2007.’

And it said the deal was an appropriate way to protect the long term interest of the school.

The report found there was no evidence that the department pre-judged the outcome of either the Tynwald debate or the planning process. And it said that then Education Minister Eddie Teare’s close involvement with the negotiations was ‘not unexpected’ given his background and expertise.

The report’s only recommendation was that as soon as the final outcome of the exchange agreement is known, that the DEC should publish in full both the agreement and all associated valuations provided by the government valuer during the negotiations which led to the agreement.

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