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
 
 

6 comments:

  1. Well done Ian and publish the rest of the documents. Who was the KCC official threatening to sue a councillor with public funds?

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  2. In my opinion, KCC will not be able to sue you for impuning the good name of the council and its officers. They would first have to prove to the court that the council had a good name and I think they would find that difficult to do. On the other hand, you would have no problem commissioning a survey to show that the people of East Kent are fed up with the Maidstone centric KCC and it's ignorance of people's concerns. You could quote Paul Carter's remarks about the flight paths from Manston, when he appeared to have no knowledge that the town of Ramgate lay directly in the approach route. You could even provide evidence that he was invited to come down and see exactly where the planes fly, and declined the invitation. Good reputation? Not round here.

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  3. Best wishes for your campaign on this Ian. Keep us informed of the progress please, and if you can find a media source that is not in the palm of others, I would like to see the lid completely taken off of this pot of gold that many seem to have used to their advantage.

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  4. Do or did any members of TDC or executives at TDC receive any remuneration from EKO?

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  5. It's a mafia!

    Keep up the good work Ian!

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  6. Is it not only at that level. It could be possible that the people in the planning department are taking backhanders/ bribes judging by the approval of the planning applications this year in Birchington.

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