CHICHESTER District Council has released financial information dating back to 2007, regarding the estimated value of the old Portfield Football Ground site in Church Road, Chichester.
The secretary of Westhampnett and Church Road Residents’ Association requested the financial information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. At the time of submitting the request, the council felt the information was commercially sensitive and that in the best interests of the taxpayer it should not be released.
The decision was challenged at a tribunal. At the first hearing the judge agreed certain information should be protected, but the majority of the information should be released. The council appealed against this decision and as a result a rehearing was ordered by the upper tier tribunal. However, the council has decided not to take the case further.
“We believe we are an open and accountable council. However, there are occasions where we believe it is important to protect information in the interest of the taxpayer. We want to get the best possible price for the land in Church Road, so that we can invest the money back into the community. The council considered that providing the information in 2009 would have given buyers an inappropriate advantage when making their tender. This is the reason we did not release the information when it was first requested,” said Paul Over, executive director of support services and the economy at Chichester District Council.
“The second tier tribunal asked the first tier tribunal to reconsider its decision. However, because sufficient time has passed, we feel that the information is no longer commercially sensitive and so we have decided to voluntarily release the information.
“We have also offered to meet the Westhampnett and Church Road Residents’ Association to explain the information and why we felt it was necessary to protect it. We are also willing to speak to local residents about any further queries they may have.”
When the Chichester and Portfield Football clubs merged, they moved to Oaklands Park, where the council funded a new club house.
It was decided the empty land at Church Road would be utilised to benefit the community. A small part of the land in Church Road will be used to extend the cemetery, and the rest of the land will be sold to a housing developer. The council agreed that 50 per cent of the housing should be affordable, due to the urgent need for housing in the area.
It was agreed the money generated from the sale of the land would be used to cover the costs of the football club’s new club house and a replacement football pitch and pavilion at Florence Road, and any fees associated with the projects.
The estimated value of the site in June 2003 was £2.4m, according to a valuation document released by the council.
The valuation adds there is a useable receipt of £1.5m, after allowing for the replacement playing fields and fees.
However out of this £1.5m, a sum of £600,000 needs to be paid to Portfield Football Club.
According to a council statement, the remaining money, estimated in 2007 to be £1.3m, will then be used to benefit other community facilities and schemes.
Outline planning permission for the Church Road scheme was approved by the development control south committee in late 2009. Local residents were encouraged to provide their views on the scheme, which was adapted to take account of some of the points raised.
It is hoped that the land will be sold next year.