Council slammed for ‘serious breach’

Posted: 26th February 2015

RCJLong-standing plans to redevelop part of the historic heart of Winchester have been thrown into the air after the High Court ruled the City Council in ‘serious breach’ of public procurement rules and expressed doubts as to whether the project was ‘the best scheme on the best terms available’.

The council had entered into an agreement with a developer to build a new mixed retail, residential and transport centre in the city centre. However, the council had subsequently agreed to variations of the agreement which deleted the requirement to provide 35 per cent affordable housing and various civic amenities.

A campaign group of local residents, led by a city councillor, were bitterly opposed to the project, claiming that it was ‘poorly designed’ and that the new buildings would be over-sized in their historic setting. The group argued that the variations to the agreement were so fundamental that the council was obliged by the Public Contracts Regulations 2006 to put the entire project out for fresh tendering.

The council insisted that the agreement still represented ‘a good deal’. However, in upholding the group’s judicial review challenge, the Court found that the variations had changed the whole character of the contract and were designed to increase the developer’s profits so as to make the scheme viable.

The council was guilty of serious breaches, both procedural and substantive, of the public procurement regime. Its failure, at any stage, to perform an open, competitive, transparent and non-discriminatory procurement process for such an important contract cast real doubt on whether the scheme was the best available option.