By Chief Correspondent Rob Thomas
TIGHT lips are having to be prised open to obtain more than the basic details of Gosport Borough Council’s efforts to lease a shop in the town’s High Street.
Last Wednesday the Economic Development Board excluded the public for its consideration of the negotiation of the lease for 51-52 High Street.
It is usual for council meetings to hold discussions about contracts – particularly contracts with private, for-profit organisations – behind closed doors using Schedule 12A of the Local Government Act 1972 and stating: “the public interest in maintaining the exemption [of disclosure to the public of exempt information] outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information…”
All that was stated in the agenda for this item was: “The contracts are at this point still subject to negotiations.”
Available information about 51-52 High Street
Agents for the sale of the lease – the Portsmouth office of Holloway, Iliffe & Mitchell – would only confirm details of the property on its website and did not name the freeholder when asked by The Globe.
The details of 51-52 High Street published by the agent are that the cost of the lease is £40,000 per year and the ‘unit’ comprises a ground floor and a first floor with a total of 3,624 sq ft of space.
The property has been vacant since the WH Smith franchise closed at the end of January last year and the Post Office moved to a shop on the corner of the High Street and South Cross Street.
How the council plans to use the leased shop
Funding for paying the lease will come from the £1.78 million awarded to the borough council in partnership with Hampshire Cultural Trust for a four-year High Street Heritage Action Zone programme.
The Globe asked Gosport Borough Council what would be the purpose of leasing 51-52 High Street but after the board meeting a spokesperson would only say that, “all details are confidential pending the finalisation of the lease details”.
The reason for asking the question was there seemed to be different versions of how the leased property would be used.
The HSHAZ website lists, as one of the projects in the programme, a pop-up gallery in the high street while Gosport Museum and Art Gallery is closed for redevelopment though there is a hint that it could deliver, “a broad range of different activities”.
However, the latest edition of the council’s Coastline newsletter – the glossy publication distributed to all households in the borough – includes information about plans for, “a new venue on Gosport High Street called the Imagination Refinery, which would host workshops, business incubator spaces, a shop and a pop-up museum”.
The Globe understands the latter, more extensive proposal is the purpose of leasing a shop which will be 51-52 High Street, if and when the negotiations are successful.
And that cannot come too soon as the project is already at least two months behind the schedule set by HSHAZ which expected: “The pop-up will be open from September.”
Getting Gosport residents engaged with consultations
The council’s tight-lipped stance on the project – the spokesperson not even being willing to disclose the purpose of leasing the shop – conflicts somewhat with a discussion earlier in the Economic Development Board meeting.
It came when considering a public consultation on the proposed Cultural Development Strategy. Board members became exercised about how such consultations are publicised so that Gosport residents are made aware of the chance to ‘have their say’.
There was a call for a review not only of how the council encourages community engagement with public consultations but also of the ways in which it conducts its publicity.
A report of the rest of the Economic Development Board meeting – up to the point when the public was required to leave – is available HERE
Photo (top): the vacant shop at 51-52 High Street, Gosport.