Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Thanet's Greenfields Despolied by Incompetnce and Broken Promises See Secret Document

Green Party Councillor, Ian Driver, has warned that greenfield land in Thanet, including rural open spaces and agricultural  land  has been put at risk of being “despoiled, disfigured and destroyed” because of incompetence and broken promises.

His outspoken attack follows a secret meeting of Thanet Council’s Planning Committee on 18th of June at which it was decided not to contest a planning appeal submitted by East Kent Opportunities (EKO) to build 550 houses on greenfield land at the New Haine Road Ramsgate .( A copy of a secret report presented to the Planning Committee is published below)

EKO’s application was rejected by Thanet’s Planning Committee in November 2013 on the grounds that “the site does not constitute previously developed land and as such the proposed residential development would involve the release of greenfield land, where there is no identified need, contrary to policy H1 of the Thanet Local Plan 2006 (2).”

Legal advice, obtained by TDC in preparation for defending EKOs appeal identified clauses in the Government’s National Planning Policy Framework published in March 2012 which require local councils to produce a plan identifying housing need and the supply of available building land in their areas over a five year period (3). This information is then used by planners as a basis for granting or refusing planning permission for house construction.

But, unlike most other council’s in Kent, TDC does not have such a plan. In fact it is unlikely to have a plan in place until 2015 at the earliest. Thanet’s legal adviser warned that without a plan it would be impossible for TDC to demonstrate grounds for refusing permission for EKOs 550 houses on the greenfield site at new Haine Road.

Said Driver,” the need to have an up-to-date housing need analysis and building land register has been a requirement of the planning system for over 2 years. Plenty of advance warning was given by the Government to prepare these documents but senior TDC managers and the ruling Labour Group did not attach a high priority to completing this extremely important task.”

“This serious management failure means that Thanet’s rural open spaces and greenfield land now faces a high risk of being covered in concrete, even though sufficient brownfield land and long term empty residential properties are already available within Thanet’s urban boundaries to meet housing need over the next 5 years”. 

“In the short-term it’s now almost certain that permission will have to be granted for EKO to build 550 houses on agricultural land at the New Haine Road and that plans to build 850 house on 47 hectares of prime agricultural at the bottom of the Manston Airport runway will have to be OK’d (4). it also means that  housing developments on greenfield land within the Manston Airport site, such as the 1,000 houses on the northern grassland  will also have to be agreed.   In the longer-term I suspect planning applications for housing on rural greenfield sites will now begin to flood into the Council as people try to profit from inflated land values until TDC closes this major loophole in its planning policies”.

“I am especially disappointed by the role TDC’s ruling Labour Group in this matter” added Driver. “In their 2011 Council Election Manifesto (5) the Labour Party promised the people of Thanet that they would oppose “encroachment into Thanet’s green spaces and that house building will be focussed on agreed brown field sites and the renovation of existing properties. Building on green field sites will be resisted wherever possible”. By failing, as the Council's ruling political  party, to ensure prompt compliance the Government’s National Planning Policy Framework, they have broken their election promises to the public and left our beautiful countryside open to the risk of being despoiled, disfigured and destroyed”.

"My suspicion is that this delay in producing important planning documents is motivated by the fact that the more houses that out built in Thanet the more money the Council receives from the Government's New Bonus Scheme, which generates for TDC the equivalent of double council tax for each new home built for up to six years. In effect Thanet Council has acceptedGovernment  bribes to allow our  greenfield sites and farmland to be used for  house building.
I have published below the secret report which was discussed by at last week's planning committee. I can see no legal or commercial reason why it was kept confidential. Perhaps it was kept secret  to ensure that Thanet residents didn't find out that the incompetence of TDCs Labour Cabinet and senior officers have now  put our green-spaces at risk of being concreted over.  

For more information contact Councillor Ian Driver on 07866588766
1.Confidential report to Thanet Planning Committee 18 June 2014 (see below)
2.See Confidential report to Thanet Planning Committee 18 June 2014
3.See para 47 of National Planning Policy Framework 2012


Thursday, 19 June 2014

Ramsgate Port is There a Future?

Thanet Green Party Councillor, Ian Driver, has warned that the Port of Ramsgate is “teetering on the verge of financial collapse".

According to figures released to Driver following a Freedom of Information Request, the Port generated £2,301,631 income in the financial year 2012-13. But in the financial year 2013-14 income plummeted to just £570,570. A staggering drop of £1.73 million; 75% less than the  previous year’s earnings!
Said Driver “This extraordinary  drop in income is explained by the 2103 TransEuropa Ferries scandal when, following a secret payment deferral deal approved by  TDCs Labour Cabinet, the company collapsed owing the Council £3.4 million in unpaid bills. But more than year later, and despite having hired a specialist maritime industry consultant, the Council has failed to attract a new ferry operator or significant alternative business for the port”.  
“I would be surprised if the £570,000 income generated by the Port in the last financial year, came anywhere close to covering its day-to-day operating costs. In fact, like Manston Airport, I reckon the port is racking up  astronomic daily  operating losses, which can’t carry on for much longer.  Its time for TDC to learn from the Manston Airport saga and begin to develop a new, imaginative business plan  which will provide a financially robust and sustainable future for the port, before its too late”.
TDC’s plans to rejuvenate the port include a £7million investment to modernise facilities and develop an “alongside” quay to attract new ferry operators, cruise liners and container vessels.   Driver, has dismissed these plans as the “unimaginative re-workings of the same old same old ideas ".
“Less than 20 miles away the Port of Dover has begun to invest close to £100 million in massively expanding its capacity to handle  ferries and liners.  Only 75 mile away, the huge,  ultra-modern,  London Gateway freight terminal recently opened for business. There is no way that Ramsgate Port could hope to compete against these maritime colossi”.
“In my opinion Thanet Council should re-think its plans and  invest in transforming  Ramsgate’s Port and Harbour into a state of the art 21st century marina and sea sports centre. A modern marina and sea sports centre would attract hundreds of thousands of new visitors from the UK, Europe and across the world who will spend their  money in the town’s shops, bars, restaurants and hotels. The marina could be linked into a joined up plan to tackle the Pleausurama eyesore and associated seafront decline This would be a major shot in the arm for Ramsgate which will create hundreds of jobs and new business opportunities. I am sure it will be possible to secure EU, KCC and Government funding to pay for a major project such as this”.
“its time to be imaginative and bold rather than re-inventing the past, which has  been proved by recent and bitter experience to no-longer be feasible in Ramsgate. A sharp focus on  modern leisure use is what will put Ramsgate back on the map!

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

KCC Leader Paul Carter Wos Ere. Why?

On 14th November 2013  Paul Carter, Leader of Kent County Council, attended a meeting of the East Kent Opportunities (EKO) Management Committee. Why was he there? He's never been to one before.

The meeting was called to discuss Thanet Council’s Planning Committee rejection of  EKOs application to build 550 houses on land owned by EKO at the New Haine Road Ramsgate.  It has been alleged that in order to secure planning permission for this development improper influence may been brought to bear  upon Thanet’s planning processes. This is a very serious allegation which is now subject to an independent investigation.

My estimate is that it cost somewhere in the region of £250,000 - £300,000 to prepare and submit the EKO planning application. Much of this cost has been picked up by council tax payers who fund EKO. EKO knew along that their massively expensive planning application would not succeed. Thanet Council’s planning officers told them so on more than one occasion. But the fools who run EKO pressed on with their futile efforts knowing full well what the result would be.

On 21 October 2013 the inevitable happened. EKOs planning application was rejected to the delight of many Labour  councillors who were aware that their, leader Clive Hart, had been playing a double game and supporting the EKO application whilst his party policy was to oppose it. 
How did EKO respond? Well instead of cutting their (our) losses they held a meeting on 14th  November,  which Paul Carter attended, at which it was decided to appeal against Thanet Council’s rejection of the EKO planning. An appeal has now been submitted and I understand that will take the form of a week long public enquiry in October. This will cost somewhere in the region of £100,000 maybe more, of our money!.

Why  spend approaching £500,000 in public money on a futile planning application and appeal?  Well the answer to this is because Kent County Council spent almost £6 million on building the New Haine Road right through the middle of the EKO land. They can only recover this investment by forcing through a planning application for housing on the land by fair means or, allegedly, foul!

So I think it's probable  that Councillor Paul Carter attended the EKO meeting to reassure himself that all means possible were being used to try to recover KCCs road building money. I am 100% certain that as boss of KCC Cllr Carter wants to ensure that his council's money is properly managed. I am 100% certain that in pursuing this honourable aim Mr Carter would not have countenanced or encouraged  some of the shenanigans and misconduct that are alleged to have surrounded the submission of the EKO planning application, which may or may not have breached the EKO membership agreement.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Thanet Council, KCC, & EKO Spend Your Money to Gag Me!

Today I have received an e-mail from Thanet Council's Legal Officer. It would appear that Thanet Council, Kent County Council and  publically funded property speculators, East Kent Opportunities (EKO),   are all considering taking legal action against me. Why? Because I have had the temerity to lodge a complaint with KCC and TDC that a clause in EKO's membership agreement  might have been broken, and that any such attempt to break that clause may have been ignored or possibly even aided.

As my previous posting on this subject suggested  KCC and TDC, appear  very reluctant to investigate my allegations   about an organisation which they jointly own and which we as council taxpayers fund. They look as though they intend to use the so-called confidentiality clauses related to the EKO membership agreement, released to me last week, to try to shut me up. This act of desperation is to stop you knowing that my allegations are related to clause 13.3 of the EKO membership agreement which says

""shall not be involved in considering planning applications at KCC or TDC (and if responsible for those involved in considering planning applications shall ensure that suitable arrangements are in place to ensure probity and that no challenge on that basis can successfully be made to any planning permission granted)".

I think everyone agrees that the  Council planning application processes must be  open, honest, free from improper influence and enjoy the trust of the private individuals and organisations who use these processes . To have a system which might be open to abuse, is a very serious matter and something which Councils should take decisive action to guard against.

Can it really be the case that TDC and KCC would not wish to take immediate action to investigate allegations of probity related planning problems?  Can it really be the case that they will use your money to pay for expenses lawyers to injunct, sue and possibly bankrupt me for telling my electors that I believe that this hitherto secret clause of the EKO membership agreement might have been breached, or assisted in its breaching?

Is this what openness,  transparency and honesty looks like in Kent local government? Or might this litigious response to my allegations mean that interest in EKOs New Haine Road planning application go much higher up Kent's political food chain than I originally imagined? I feel a Freedom of Information Request coming on.

Enjoy the e-mail exchanges. You couldn't make them up, unless of course Kent was North Korea

Dear Cllr Driver
EKO Agreement
I am following up on you e-mail to me from last evening concerning your intention to disclose some or all of the EKO agreement.
I am sure you will appreciate that to disclose any part of the agreement would amount to a clear and unequivocal breach of the confidentiality agreement you signed only a few hours earlier.
This is I understand not the first time you have placed information into the public domain in breach of your duties as a Councillor and these matters will need to be considered with a view to the resulting prejudice that your actions have caused to the Council.  I will be reflecting on what action may be appropriate in the circumstances.
Beyond this, however, it is my understanding that EKO are also considering their position and, if they choose to take legal action against you, I would not be able to assist you in respect of that action.
Your assertions as to wrongdoing by employees outside of the Council may also result in legal action being taken by them or their employers and this would also not be something which you could be supported over.
As to your “public interest” justification for taking this step, this would not amount to a defence to a breach, particularly where you are claiming to be the sole arbiter of what may or may not be in the public interest.
I would simply therefore wish to caution you against taking further steps without understanding the consequences to you in person and to confirm that any action you take will not be sanctioned or defended by this Council.

Yours sincerely
Steven Boyle

Interim Legal Services Manager and Monitoring Officer

Dear Mr Boyle

Thank you for e-mail.

I am very surprised that your  response to my extremely serious allegation of possible misconduct in relation to Thanet Council 's jointly owned property speculating LLP, EKO, has been to raise the possibility of legal action being taken against me. You make no mention whatsoever of my formal complaint and what action you will take as Monitoring Officer to investigate whether my allegations are true or not. I'm afraid that your response suggests to me that Thanet Council is more interested in threatening whistle-blowers and covering up serious allegations, rather than acting decisively to ensure that the probity and honesty of Thanet Council's planning system is protected.  

As you aware an agreement to keep information confidential does not remain  binding if this  confidential  information exposes possible misconduct.

Having had no reassurance from yourself as Monitoring Officer that you intend to take any action in connection with my compliant to you, I therefore  believe that I now have a right to air my concerns about EKO  in the public arena.
Yours sincerely

Councillor Ian Driver
See letter below - EKO  is an organisation owned entirely  by Kent  County Council  and Thanet District Council. Its absolutely astonishing that they require this level of secrecy in relation to a document which contains no commercially  sensitive information whatsoever.

Confidentiality Agreement

Re :East Kent Opportunities LLP  (EKO LLP) Members’ Agreement  22nd August 2008 - terms and conditions –

Private and Confidential 
We  refer to the request made for detailed information in regards to the EKO LLP Member’s Agreement, (“The Agreement”) and your request to view certain confidential information concerning the agreement.

 On the basis that you do not have any formal rights or hold an elected position on the EKO LLP Management Committee bestowed upon you by Thanet District Council and that such information has been agreed from the outset and formation of the LLP to be kept by both member organisations as confidential and commercially sensitive We have had to take wider legal advice regarding its availability. Release of this information is not likely to be in the public interest, but should this information become public it could significantly disadvantage the company in its commercial dealings.
It is therefore necessary to require a personal undertaking from you that any information provided to you is on restricted terms only (the ‘authorised purpose’).

Accordingly, you may wish to take your own legal advice before commencing with signing this agreement. The authorised purpose is for your own personal individual review and interrogation of the agreement only, so as to understand what business relationship has been entered into between the two Member parties and the objectives and requirements that are set out.

For the purposes of this letter ‘confidential information’ means any and all information relating to “The Agreement” which is disclosed by EKO LLP, either of its Members, or its advisors, other than information which is already in a disclosee’s unrestricted possession or in the public domain, or which comes into a disclosee’s unrestricted possession or the public domain except as a result of a disclosure in breach of the terms of this letter or any other obligation of confidentiality owed to us by any person.

 1.       Undertakings

In our agreeing to supply the aforementioned confidential information, you hereby unconditionally agree as follows:

(a)      to use the confidential information only for authorised reference purposes;
(b)      to treat the confidential information as private and confidential and safeguard it accordingly;
(c)      not to discuss or disclose or permit to be disclosed the confidential information other than to another disclosee and only with the express consent of EKO’s Executive Officer - a list of other discloses can be provided upon a written request;
(d)      not to make copies, reproductions or summaries of the confidential information including any form of, electronic, social or broadcast media;
(e)      not to announce or disclose the existence of any of the terms of, the agreement without EKO LLP Executive Officer’s prior written consent, unless such announcement or disclosure is required by any applicable law.
(f)      to notify us in writing as soon as reasonably practicable if any legal proceedings are commenced, or action taken which could result in a disclosee becoming compelled to disclose any of the confidential information, to take all available steps at your expense to resist or avoid such proceedings or action, including all steps that we may reasonably request and to keep us fully and promptly informed of all matters and developments relating to it.
(g)      if a disclosee is obliged to disclose confidential information to any third party, to disclose to that third party only the minimum amount of information consistent with the satisfaction of the obligation to make such disclosure and to give us prior written notice of the information proposed to be disclosed containing a confirmation that the disclosee’s legal advisers’ opinion is that such disclosure is required upon written demand from us, to:

(i)       return to us all confidential information (and any copies of it or of any part of it);
(ii)      expunge all confidential information from any computer, word processor or other similar device into which it was entered or programmed;
(iii)     destroy all notes, analyses or memoranda containing confidential information;
(iv)     furnish us with a certificate signed by you confirming your compliance with paragraphs (ii) and (iii) above;

(i)       to use reasonable endeavours to procure that each disclosee acts, or omits to act, as if he, she or it had agreed with us in the same terms as this letter; and

(j)      to bring to the attention of each disclosee the prohibition on dealings by insiders set out in the criminal justice act 1993)]

2.       General matters

You agree:
(a)      to indemnify us and hold us harmless from and against all actions, claims, costs, proceedings, expenses, loss or damage (including, without limitation, legal costs) which may arise directly or indirectly from the unauthorised disclosure or use of the confidential information by a disclosee or from any other breach of the terms of this letter;
(b)      that damages would not normally be an adequate remedy for a breach of the terms of this letter and to waive any rights you may have to oppose the granting of equitable or injunctive relief sought by us in relation to any breach or suspected breach of the undertakings contained in this letter;
(c)      that we may exclude from participating further in any discussions or communications with any disclosee who we believe has breached the terms of this letter in a material respect and you hereby undertake to comply forthwith with any such direction from us;
(d)      that the furnishing of confidential information will not constitute any agreement  by EKO LLP, nor the basis of any contract nor a representation of warranty as to the accuracy, completeness or otherwise of the confidential information;
(e)      that we have not made nor will make any representation or warranty as to the accuracy, completeness or otherwise of the confidential information;
(g)      no single or partial exercise of, or failure or delay by EKO LLP in exercising any right, power or privilege to which we are entitled shall operate as a waiver of, or impair or preclude any other or further exercise;
(h)      the terms of this letter and your obligations and acknowledgements under it may only be:
(i)       waived by us in writing and varied in writing signed by both parties;

(i)       your interest in the EKO LLP Member’s Agreement is as a principal,  on your own behalf and not on account of or with a view to relay to any other person.
(j)      if any provision of this letter is found by any court or competent authority to be invalid, unlawful or unenforceable in any jurisdiction in relation to us or you, it will not invalidate the remaining provisions or affect the validity, lawfulness or enforceability of the provision in relation to any party or in any other jurisdiction in relation to any party or in any other jurisdiction;
(k)      the terms of this letter, your obligations and undertakings under it shall be governed by and construed in accordance with English Law and the English courts shall have exclusive jurisdiction for all matters arising under it;

(l)       any requests for further  information are to be made to Matthew Hyland on 01622 223423 and to no other persons.
If you  accept the terms and conditions of this  letter, please indicate your agreement by signing and returning to us the enclosed copy of this letter.

Yours faithfully


Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Margate’s Dreamland Margate’s Nightmare

Thanet Council’s ambitious target to open the Margate Dreamland Amusement  Park by April 2015, has suffered yet another major set back.  Plans agreed on 1 May to seek an external  management organisation   to run the  tourist attraction on behalf of the Council were revealed today  to be in breach of  European Procurement rules  which prohibit preference being given to not-for-profit contractors when letting tenders (1). The ruling  means that the Dreamland Trust, seen by many as TDCs preferred operator of the amusement park,  will now have to compete against commercial organisations to become the park operators.

Green Party Councillor, Ian Driver, a critic of TDCs management of the Dreamland Project said “although I am 110% behind the amusement park and hope that it will be a massive success, I believe that an April 2015 launch is far too optimistic .  This  latest news means that its extremely unlikely  to have an external management organisation in place in time to oversee the opening of the park.  I have previously  expressed my concerns about delays in beginning the refurbishment and restoration of the park and its rides.  I have also aired  serious doubts about whether the Dreamland budget will cover the final cost of the Compulsory  Purchase Order for the  site and the all the work which must be done to have it in a fit state to be open to the public next April (2). I think that the Council should now  begin a fundamental review of  it’s  project plans for the amusement park and come up with more sensible budget and timeline otherwise Margate’s Dreamland will soon become Margate’s Nightmare”.
see also Publ Sector Law Blog (last case at bottom of page)