Friday, 10 October 2014

Dreamland Nightmare

Green Party Councillor and Thanet South Parliamentary Candidate Ian Driver has blasted Thanet Council for its maladministration of the  prestigious Dreamland Heritage Amusement Park project. According to a leaked e-mail obtained by Driver (see below),  Thanet Council has decided to offer a long lease (rumoured to be about  100 years) to a commercial operator to run the amusement park on behalf of TDC. The shock move follows last week’s decision to terminate the unsuccessful   procurement process to attract a management operator on a 35 year lease, which is believed to have attracted only one applicant.

Said Driver, the Council secured the Dreamland  Compulsory Purchase Order in  2013  on the basis that it would manage the park in  association with the not-for-profit Dreamland Trust. The Council then argued (without much supporting evidence)  that its deal with the Trust was probably in breach of EU competition rules and began a process to  competitively procure a partner to operate the park on a 35 year lease.  The Dreamland  Trust, for reasons unknown, (reportedly relationship difficulties with senior TDC managers)   decided not to engage in the procurement process, which in any event  appears to have been a total failure with only one interested party submitting an application.

The Council is now in the process of re-advertising for a  park operator with a lease close to 100 years. Granting such a long lease is, as Cabinet member David Greens says in his e-mail to Deputy Council Leader Richard Nicholson “effectively a disposal”.  “I must agree with David Green on this point” said Driver, “the granting of lease close to 100 years is indeed like giving the park  away  to a commercial operator for what I am led to believe will be a very modest annual rental. And all this after having invested what will probably be more than  £5  million in taxpayers money into the project. I very much doubt that the Council will ever be able recover this investment”.

He went to say   “I am very concerned that the legal basis upon which the Council secured  the Dreamland CPO -  a partnership with the not-for-profit Dreamland Trust,  might  now be invalidated and that the previous Dreamland owners may have a significant claim against TDC”.

Driver, who is a firm supporter of the Dreamland Heritage Park, said that the flagship project, is a brilliant idea which will help to regenerate Thanet , attract tourists and  create many jobs,  but sadly its success is being  marred by "third rate management". The project budget is unrealistic with the cost  of the scenic railway restoration coming in at more than  £400,000  than estimated. The final cost of the CPO is likely to overrun  by at least  £1million and the cost of emergency works to the cinema are unlikely to be reclaimed from the owner. Driver has been prevented by senior council bosses from seeing the income and expenditure figures for the Dreamland project. He is now appealing to the information commissioner to order the Council to release the figures and “make public to the people of Thanet what they have been hiding”.   Said Driver "with all the budget difficulties,  the late start to the restoration of the scenic railway and the major problems with securing an operator for the park I simply can't believe that Dreamland will be opened in by the April 2015 deadline regularly touted by Council Leader Iris Johnston and Acting Chief Executive Madeline Homer”.

I have been calling on the Council, for quite some time,  to conduct a thorough review of the Dreamland project and budget and come up with a more realistic plan and timescale for the opening of  phase 1. This project is too important to the people of Thanet and the local economy to be crisis managed as is so clearly the case now".

Wednesday, October 8, 2014 3:47 PM
To: cllr-Richard Nicholson
Cc: cllr-Iris Johnston; Madeline Homer; Steven Boyle; cllr-Richard Everitt; cllr-David Green; cllr-Elizabeth Green; cllr-Mike Harrison
Subject: Re: Fw:

Dear Richard
You may have gathered from the previous informal cabinet when officers came forward with the news that we would be asked to extend the lease in order to facilitate our only potential managing agent obtaining the required capital, that I was very uneasy about what was proposed. We have incrementally move from a Not for Profit partner (Dreamland Trust)  to a lease to a commercial partner, to what is effectively a disposal. I have subsequently had chance to discuss with Madeline. I asked her whether we had done sufficiently robust due diligence on our potential partner, and whether there could be any comeback from the previous owners. Madeline said she would get answers to these questions.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Green Party Driver Pleads Not Guilty to Live Exports Charges

Green Party Councillor and Thanet South Election Candidate, Ian Driver, appeared in Margate Magistrates Court today charged with assault and entry into a restricted port facility contrary to section 11a of the ship and port and facility (security) regulations Act 2004. He  pleaded not guilty and was unconditionally bailed until 25th February when there will be a 2 day hearing into the allegations.
The charges against Driver relate to an anti-live animal exports demonstration he attended at the Port of Ramsgate   in May 2014.  Driver  has been campaigning against the cruel and brutal shipment of live of farm animals for slaughter in Europe for over 3 years.  He said “I will vigorously contest the charges against and will continue to campaign against the barbarous treatment of animals by the exporters. This awful trade must be stopped”. 

Two other protestors, Rob Bridger and Christine Smith were conditionally charged for obstructing the road during  anti-live animal exports demonstrations at Ramsgate in September.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Pleasurama TDC P*ss Take

Senior Officers of Thanet District Council  are  trying to restrict Councillors’ freedom to research, understand and comment on the Pleasurama issue. During a telephone conversation with  a TDC Manager yesterday Cllr Ian Driver was advised that the legal advice and valuation documents relating to the Pleasurama development, which were requested by the Scrutiny Panel last week, will not be sent out to councillors in advance of an emergency meeting on 15 October. Instead they will be made available at the meeting itself and councillors can have a recess to read them.

In an e-mail to TDCs Monitoring Officer, Steven Boyle,  Driver claims that restricting access to the papers. Is undemocratic and possibly illegal. He also points out that by restricting the time of Councillors to read  and make decisions on what are complex documents, could lead to poor decision making. Driver’s e-mail is copied below. Said Driver “this is yet another example of the bullying, manipulative un-democratic culture which prevails at TDCs and which has brought it into disrepute. Its time for change. 

Dear Mr Boyle
I understand that the legal papers and valuation report regarding the Pleasaurama site will not be made available before the meeting of the extraordinary meeting of  OSP on 15th October. I was told that members of the OSP will be able to have a recess to read the papers on the 15th October.

I am writing to let you know that this  not acceptable to me. First I am dyslexic. It takes me longer than most people to read and understand documents, especially complex and technical documents. If I am placed under pressure of deadlines to read  documents, such as a time limited recess, then it becomes much harder for me to read and understand them. I therefore request that I be provided with copies of the documents several days in advance of the meeting so that I can read and understand them at my leisure and be properly prepared to play a full role in the in the meeting like other non-disabled Councillors.

Second, the  decision to withhold the OSP papers until the day of the meeting is most unusual. In all other cases  reports and papers, including confidential reports, are sent to members one week before the meeting.  I can see no reason to have suddenly changed procedure without any explanation  or justification.

 Furthermore, it is my opinion that the Local Government Act 1972 and the Council's Constitution does not afford officers the right to withhold, until the last moment, documents which members of OSP have a legal right to see. The limited and restricted access of key documents,especially when decisions need to be  based upon these documents, is my my opinion highly improper and entirely undemocratic. By following the proposed course of action the Council is improperly restricting the ability of  its elected  members from properly understanding  the issues.

Third I am not available to come into the Council offices before the meeting on 15th October to read the documents and I will not be able to come into the council offices early on the day of the meeting itself.

I therefore request that you e-mail me the papers to me today so that I have time to read them and properly prepare for the meeting.
I would appreciate hearing from you today as refusal to provide me the OSP papers in advance will result in a complaint to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission for breach of the Equality Ac t 2010.

Finally I undertake to  respect the confidentiality of the the papers you may provide today in relation to the OSP meeting
Yours sincerely
Councillor Ian Driver