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



4 comments:

  1. Geoff Wild must go he's simply trying to cover things up at kcc. And it shows how supposedly impartial eko was as it's run by kcc. Is it just matt hyland in eko?

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  2. Well done again Ian! I think the people of this country have just about had it up to the neck with public funded cover-ups!

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  3. Planning law is a minefield. The problem here seems to be that various people have involved themselves in the planning process, who have little or no experience of dealing with planning applications. It is a quasi-judicial role and the person charged with that role needs to have significant experience to be able to walk the tightrope successfully.

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  4. This is the same as TDC, if they spent the time they spend on covering up on public service we would all be better off.

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