The Chief Executive reminded the Members that reports had, in the past, been presented to the Strategic Policy and Resources Committee and to the City Growth and Regeneration Committee around the strategic use of Council land assets to bring forward regeneration opportunities, including the potential for institutional investment to help drive regeneration at scale, as aligned to Belfast Agenda growth ambitions and the Belfast City Centre Regeneration and Investment Strategy.
She reported that recent engagement with institutional investors and other cities had identified a number of partnership-based regeneration schemes between institutional investors and councils and referred, for example, to those in Bristol, Cardiff, Manchester and Newcastle. In addition, the recent Innovation and Growth Commission ‘Reset for Growth’ report had highlighted the need to create a re-imagined, liveable, mixed use city core, with a strong focus on quality residential schemes, and had emphasised the need for public bodies to engage actively with the market and with investment partners in order to deliver on this ambition.
In terms of progressing these discussions further, the Council had sought legal and professional commercial advice to establish a robust and compliant process to fully engage with the investment/development market, with a view to procuring a suitable partner to unlock the investment and regeneration potential which existed across a number of strategic assets in the city centre initially and to develop a partnership which could deliver on further regeneration across the city.
The Chief Executive explained that the legal advice had included a thorough review of potential procurement routes and had proposed the following phased approach to engagement and evaluation:
Stage 1: Pre-soft market testing preparation
Stage 2: Soft market testing (to inform Stage 3)
Stage 3: Expressions of Interest stage
Stage 4: Evaluation
Stage 5: Appointment of preferred bidder and contract close
She pointed out that it was recognised that, to bring forward regeneration and development at scale, with a focus on housing regeneration, would require significant funding and stressed the importance of engaging with investment partners. Based on the legal and commercial advice, it was proposed that the Council proceed by way of a soft market testing exercise, followed by an expression of interest exercise, to determine investor/development partner interest. The soft market testing exercise would involve targeted engagement with identified potential institutional investors/strategic development partners in relation to the Council’s identified sites. The feedback from this would inform the detail of the expression of interest exercise and help to understand the viability, scale and phasing potential, the nature of subsequent partnership/joint venture arrangements and investor requirements to bring forward development at scale. The proposed soft marketing testing and expression of interest process would not, she pointed out, bind the Council and the outcome of this exercise would be presented to the Committee before any decisions would be made.
The Chief Executive concluded by providing details of five sites which had been identified through the ongoing Strategic Site Assessment process and confirmed that those would be deemed suitable for inclusion in an initial development portfolio.
She then recommended that the Committee:
i note the ongoing work in relation to the potential for adopting an institutional investor approach to the delivery of housing led placemaking regeneration;
ii approve the proposed approach, commencing with an initial soft market testing exercise and a subsequent expression of interest exercise and note that it would receive a further detailed report upon the completion of the expression of interest exercise in order to inform next steps; and
iii note the inclusion of Council property assets, as detailed within the report, as part of the initial soft market testing exercise.
After discussion, the Committee adopted the recommendations.