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.  

Ends
For more information contact Councillor Ian Driver on 07866588766
Notes
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
4.See
http://www.manston-green.co.uk/about-us.html
5.See http://www.thanet-labour-group.org.uk/
 

 
 
 

Saturday, 21 June 2014

East Kent Opportunites. Out of Control. KCC Must Investigate Alleged Misconduct.

Thanet Green Party Councillor, Ian Driver has called for the closure of  “out-of-control development Quango” East Kent Opportunities LLP (EKO) and an immediate investigation into allegations of serious misconduct by its Executive Officer, Matt Hyland, and EKO management committee member Theresa Bruton.

 Set up in 2008, EKO is a property management company jointly owned by Kent County Council and Thanet District Council (TDC).

In 2013 EKO submitted a planning application to TDC to build 550 houses on land which it owns at the New Haine Road, Ramsgate. In May 2013  EKO management committee member and Thanet District Council Chief Executive, Sue McGonigal, was advised that the application contravened TDC planning policy and was likely to be rejected.

Shortly afterwards, McGonigal e-mailed EKO Executive Officer, Hyland and management committee member Bruton, (who is also KCCs Head of Regeneration Planning),  requesting that they provide her with  information which “I can use at my meeting with TDC planners this afternoon … to illustrate the argument I want them to use to support the (EKO)  application”.

On discovering this e-mail in March 2014, Driver complained to TDC  that McGonigal appeared to have made an improper attempt to influence TDCs planning officers in breach of planning rules and in contravention of paragraph 13.3 of  EKO Membership Agreement  which stipulates that  members of the Management Committee 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 ensure probity”.

On 3 June 2014 TDC agreed  to launch an independent enquiry into Driver’s  allegations. Shortly afterwards McGonigal was reportedly signed off from work due to ill-health.

On 5th June, Driver  complained to KCC Monitoring Officer, Geoff Wild, about the actions  of Bruton and Hyland who, rather than warning McGonigal that her proposed meeting with TDC planning officers was likely to be contrary to the EKO membership agreement,  instead  “to my utter astonishment" provided McGonigal with a document for her to use as part of her discussions with TDC planning officers. 

 In a further e-mail to Wild dated 7th June, Driver added that he believed Hyland was in attendance at one of McGonigal's meetings with Thanet planners about the EKO planning application (held after  McGonigal had been informed that this application  was against planning policy).

Why would a member of the EKO management committee and  the Executive Officer of EKO want to meet with a senior Thanet Planner when that planner had already made it perfectly clear that the application they had submitted was against Council Policy and likely to be rejected?  Surely such a meeting contravenes paragraph 13.3 of the EKO agreement. Surely for Executive Officer of EKO to be at such a meeting is tantamount to supporting the breach of EKO rules?

Driver also raised with the Wild that fact that Hyland helped to organise and spoke at a meeting of Thanet councillors "at which a presentation of the EKO planning application was made".

This meeting was held less than one week before the meeting of the planning committee at which  the EKO  application was decided. All members of Thanet planning committee were invited to this meeting. In Driver's  opinion, "the holding of this meeting was highly improper and could, because of its proximity to the planning committee meeting, be seen as yet another  effort to influence decision makers".

 
Driver concluded that   “In my opinion both  Ms Bruton and Mr Hyland appear to have aided and abetted Ms McGonigal's efforts to improperly interfere with Thanet Council's planning process in favour of the EKO planning application". Interference with the planning application process is course an extremely serious matter. So is aiding, abetting and supporting someone in doing this. This is why the EKO membership agreement has a rule which is spelt out in paragraph 13.3 which aims to prevent EKO staff and management committee from doing this. However, Driver's allegations appear to suggest that this rule was ignored by McGogingal, Hyland and Bruton. 

Replying to Driver’s complaint  Wild refused to commit KCC to an immediate enquiry into the allegations of misconduct, warning him that any reportage of his complaint could lead to legal action. Said Driver “I’m astounded that instead of taking prompt action to investigate extremely serious allegations KCC are threatening legal action against me".

Driver says "all my allegations have been backed up with documentary evidence and I believe what have said to be true. In my opinion EKOs rules have been broken. the person who broke the rules was aided and supported by Hyland and Bruton. The consequence of these actions is an effort was made to subvert  Thanet Council's planning processes. This is as serious as it gets. EKO is clearly ungovernable and out of control. There are no checks or balances to prevent this public body from doing what it wants, even to the extent of coming close to breaking the law.  It’s time to close down this out-of-control development quango and its time for KCC to  launch an immediate investigation into the alleged actions of one of representatives on the  EKO management committee and the actions of the EKO executive officer"

Extract from KCC Monitoring Officer Geoff Wild e-mail to me  of 7th June
 
I would strongly urge you to refrain from disclosing to the media anything that might lead to the identification of Ms Bruton. This is because she is not a “very senior manager” (as you suggest), the allegations against her are tenuous, unproven and at best peripheral to the main focus of the investigation, and no useful purpose will be served by publishing her name.  Any such publication runs the significant risk of being defamatory and Kent County Council will not hesitate to take appropriate steps in order to protect the reputation of itself and its officers.

My response to Geoff Wild's e-mail

Thank you for your e-mail. I am disappointed by your response. 
The information I provided to you clearly demonstrates that Ms Bruton and Mr Hyland were aware that Ms McGonigal was likely to be acting in breach of the EKO Membership Agreement. Indeed  she  e-mailed them both and told them she was meeting Thanet planners to "illustrate the argument I want them to use in support  of the (EKO) application". This proposed course of action was  in breach of  Part D, Clause 13.3 of the EKO membership agreement. It was therefore the duty of both  Ms Bruton and Ms Hyland as responsible  EKO colleagues to advise Ms McGonigal that her actions were wrong. However instead of doing this  Mr Hyland and Ms Bruton actually provided Ms McGonigal with a document which she used to assist her  to  "illustrate the argument  I want them (the planners)  to use in support  of the (EKO) application".

With respect,  these actions were  not "tenuous, unproven and at best peripheral". The evidence I have provided to you clearly demonstrates that Mr Hyland and Ms Bruton aided and abetted an effort by Ms McGonigal to deliberately breach the EKO membership agreement. Whether or not  Ms McGonigal actually did what she said she was going to do is immaterial. The fact is there  appears to have been collusion with  and support for  someone who was proposing to  break EKO rules .......... This is totally unacceptable and is clearly a separate issue to the DIP investigation into Ms McGonigal's actions. It is therefore beholden upon Kent County Council to launch its own investigation now, instead of waiting for the outcome of the McGonigal DIP investigation which, in view of her reported sickness absence, may never be completed.

Furthermore  I am advised that Ms McGonigal held at least 2 meetings with Thanet planners to discuss the EKO planning application at which Mr Hyland was in attendance. These meetings were held after Ms McGonigal had been advised that the EKO planning application was against Thanet council policy and would not be recommended for approval.  For Ms McGonigal to arrange such meetings was contrary to Part D, Clause 13.3 of the EKO membership agreement. For Mr Hyland to attend and play an active role in such meetings was to condone and collaborate in the breach of Part D, Clause 13.3 of the EKO membership agreement. This is both wrong and highly improper, especially considering that he is the EKO Executive Officer.
 
I understand that a briefing meeting of Thanet councillors was arranged  at which a presentation of the EKO planning application was made.  This meeting was held less than one week before the meeting of the planning committee at which  the EKO  application was decided. All members of Thanet planning committee were invited to this meeting. In my opinion, the holding of this meeting was highly improper and could, because of its proximity to the planning committee, be seen as an effort to influence decision makers.
 
.....  I understand that  Mr Hyland actively assisted in organising this meeting and Mr Hyland spoke at length at the meeting about the EKO planning application along with planning and highway consultants employed by EKO. So once again we have a situation where Mr Hyland appears to  have aided and abetted Ms McGonigal's breach of Part D, Clause 13.3 of the EKO membership agreement. This is both wrong and highly improper.
 
I am glad  that you agree my allegations are extremely serious.  I trust that you will also agree that actions of Ms Bruton and Mr Hyland are totally independent of the investigation into Ms McGonigal and that you will  commence an investigation into without  further  delay. I doubt whether Kent County Council would like to be portrayed  in the media as sitting back and doing nothing when presented with allegations about collusion in rule breaking, covering upon potential misconduct in public office and ignoring  the blatant governance failures of a partnership funded by KCC. 
 
As to your threats of legal action may I remind you that as an elected councillor it is my duty to blow the whistle on examples of misconduct in public office, especially if the statutory officer appears to be reluctant to take my complaints seriously.
 
It's shameful that KCC appears to prefer to use taxpayers money on legal actions aimed at covering  up the potential misbehaviour of it employees and agents  instead  of launching an immediate and thorough investigation into serious allegations of impropriety.


Yours sincerely
Councillor Ian Driver



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
 

 

Saturday, 7 June 2014

EKO - Terminate Corrupt & Out of Control Council Quango


East Kent Opportunities LLP is a dodgy  property speculator. I believe that it has deliberately bent  and broken  rules designed to protect the probity of town and country  planning processes at Thanet. Its controlling partners have failed to properly regulate  and hold to account the actions of this organisation.  EKO is, in my opinion, a corrupt, out of control council owned Quango which should be terminated with immediate effect.

EKO was established in 2008. It is jointly owned  by Kent County Council and Thanet District Council. It is funded by you and I through our council tax payments and is highly secretive. So much so that when I asked as a Councillor, who is effectively a shareholder of this dodgy enterprise,  to see its membership agreement I was threatened with legal action should I reveal any part of it to the public. So here is a part of that agreement – the sealed and signed bit at the end which is course so sensitive that it should never be revealed to the people who are paying for it  - you and I.

 
EKOs  main asset is a large chunk of agricultural  land just behind the Westwood Cross shopping centre. The land was originally scheduled to be used for employment purposes.  To make the land  accessible EKO built the New Haine Road right through the middle of the site at a cost of about £6million.  When the recession kicked in it quickly became apparent that no-one was interested in  employment related developments on the site.  This became more of a problem when Pfizer closed its operations and Discovery Park was opened with its massive tax breaks which were much more attractive than non-subsidised New Haine Rd.   So EKO came up with the idea of building houses on the land.  This would enable them to cover the cost of the road and trouser a nice little profit which could be re-invested  in more speculative activities across East  Kent.

EKO spent well over £250,000 of public money on employing lawyers, marketing and planning consultants to try to secure planning permission for the land. They spent this not-inconsiderable amount of public money  knowing full well that building houses on this land was clearly against Thanet Council planning policy. Thanet Labour councillors  were so incensed by these shenanigans that they held a protest on the EKO land and Clive Hart denounced the Conservatives administration for supporting EKOs  wasting of public money on futile planning applications on greenfield sites.

 
Fast forward to 2013. EKOs planning application had been submitted. The Council was now under Labour control and Clive Hart was the Leader.  Hart had also  been elevated to membership of the EKO board and his previous objections to the  EKO planning application seemed to have mysteriously vanished. In fact at meetings of the EKO board he happily voted in favour of all actions related to supporting the planning application,
So determined was  EKO to secure planning permission for housing on this land that it  began, in my opinion, to bend the rules.  Through Freedom of Information requests I was able to gather robust and convincing evidence which suggested to me that  EKO had made improper efforts to undermine and  influence Thanet’s  planning process in order to have its  application approved. I would add at this point that such actions absolutely did not involve Council Leader Hart.  

When these efforts failed and EKOs planning application was rejected in November 2013 the organisation  immediately decided to appeal against the decision at a cost close to £100,000 which you and I will pay for. Ex-council leader Clive Hart once a strong opponent of EKOs plans was of course happy to vote in favour of this eye-wateringly expensive appeal. Kent County Council Leader, Paul Carter, also attended an EKO meeting at which the planning appeal was discussed.
I reported my concerns about EKOs apparent  bad behaviour  to Thanet Council’s Monitoring Officer and an investigation was started. Right from the start determined efforts were made to intimidate me and cover up my  complaint. So serious were these moves that the Monitoring Officer wrote a 13 page letter supported by 20 pages of evidence setting out the role of ex-Council Councillor  Leader Clive Hart, his cabinet colleague Councillor Michelle Fenner and a number of officers in trying to prevent my complaint from being dealt with fairly and properly.  These efforts included subverting the legally protected role  of the Monitoring Officer, suggesting that I be arrested by the Police for stealing council e-mails and dismissing the Monitoring Officer from his post less within 48 hours of his  13 page letter being published. If there was nothing to hide why would Thanet Council take such extraordinary steps to nobble the investigation and cover up my complaint?
These events were undoubtedly a major factor in the recent resignation of Council Leader Clive Hart who had been named and shamed in the Monitoring Officer letter. The events also prompted a number of Councillors from the Conservative Party, UKIP and Indenedent to make a stand against Labour's outrageous efforts to supress a serious complaint. Fortunately since Hart’s departure the cover up seems to be over and an independent enquiry into my allegations was approved by the Council this week. it may take several weeks to arrive at a conclusion, but this is a major step in the right direction.
But there is a twist in the tale. I have now secured additional evidence  about alleged improper interference with Thanet’s planning processes. This time it’s not a Thanet Council issue, but  a Kent County Council matter. I dutifully reported my concerns about what appeared to me to be active collaboration and assistance in the breaking of EKOs rules and possible assistance in undermining Thanet’s planning process to the KCC Monitoring Officer on Friday.
He e-mailed me back today suggesting that no immediate action  was to be taken to deal with my extremely serious allegations. He then  threatened  that publishing anything related to my allegations “runs the significant risk of being defamatory and Kent County Council will not hesitate to take appropriate steps in order to protect the reputation of itself and its officers”. I have course responded in a suitably robust manner suggesting that   "It's shameful that KCC appears to prefer to use taxpayers money on legal actions aimed at covering  up potential misbehaviour instead  of launching an immediate and thorough investigation into serious allegations of impropriety".
So there we have it. A publically funded organisation which you and I pay for which allegedly breaks its own rules and appears to have assisted in  the improper interference with Thanet Council’s planning processes. When these concerns are properly raised with both KCC and TDC these organsiations have tried  to threaten and intimidate the whistle-blower, cover up the alleged wrong doing and resist calls for an investigation.
EKO is a dodgy property speculator. I believe that it has deliberately bent  and broken  rules designed to protect the probity of town and country planning processes. Its controlling partners KCC and TDC have failed to properly regulate  and hold to account the actions of this organisation.  EKO is, in my opinion, a corrupt, out of control council owned Quango which should be terminated by its partners  with immediate effect.
Now sue me.

NOTE anonymous correspondent I have received your letter thanks and I will be making enquiries