Former Thanet councillor, Ian Driver, has called on serving TDC councillors “to disobey and rebel against” advice issued by the Council’s Monitoring Officer, Timothy Howes about Ramsgate’s seafront Pleasurama development.In an unprecedented and hard-hitting advisory e-mail sent to all of TDCs 56 councillors yesterday (31 August) Mr Howes says (extracts) “As .. public interest in the progress of the Pleasurama project grows, it is important that Members understand ... the terms of the agreement are that neither the Council nor the other parties should make any press release or announcement in respect of the agreement without the approval of the others. Nor shall any party disclose the terms of this agreement to any third party. Given the above, I would ask that Members are mindful of what they say in public and on social media about the Pleasurama agreement”.
Said Driver “There is a massive and growing public interest in the future of the Ramsgate Pleasurama development site. This stalled development has blighted Ramsgate’s seafront for more than 20 years deterring investment in the area for almost a generation and costing £millions in lost opportunities and jobs. With the sale of the Pleasurama freehold to Cardy Ramsgate Ltd for a reported £3.5 million last month; the sudden change of directors at the company; followed by revelations that offshore, Panamanian registered company, Mintal Group Inc. has charges on the freehold of the land; people are now becoming very worried about the future of the site. I’ve heard lots of speculation about whether anything will ever be built on the site, or whether it will be land banked, left derelict and allowed to blight the seafront for another 20years”.
“Surely this is time for Thanet Council to be totally open and transparent about what’s happening at the Pleasurama site rather than citing a confidentially clause in the agreement with Cardy and instructing councillors to shut up and say nothing. Ordering councillors to keep quiet about a very controversial issue is, I believe, undemocratic and raises fundamental question about who is running Thanet Council; democratically elected councillors; or over paid faceless bureaucrats?
“Local councillors, especially Ramsgate councillors, should be free to say what they wish to their constituents about Pleasurama and the development agreement with Cardy Ramsgate. They should not be gagged or muzzled. If I was in their place I would dismiss Mr Howes advice and insist that the development agreement and all the other secret Pleasurama documents are published so that the public can see for themselves just how badly the previous Labour and the Tory administrations and senior council bosses mis-managed this major issue.
Just 2 days ago Driver was told by Thanet Council that it would not release him from a two year old High Court Injunction preventing him from publishing confidential documents about the Pleasurama development even though the council no longer owns the site. “Within 48 hours of trampling over my human rights to free expression TDC is now trying to silence 56 democratically elected councillors and prevent them from communicating with their constituents freely and openly about Pleasurama. This is an unprecedented anti-democratic outrage which you might expect in North Korea, but not in the UK”.
Driver went on to lay the blame for the situation on the shoulders of TDCs previous Labour administration. He said “the Pleasurama development agreement was discussed and approved in secret by Thanet’s then ruling Labour Cabinet in 2015. Iris Johnston the leader of the Council at the time and Rick Everitt, Cabinet member for finance, were pictured signing the agreement with Cardy’s Mike Stannard and were quoted extensively in the local and regional media about how great the deal was, whilst knowing all along that the agreement included a draconian, unfair and totally unnecessary confidentially clause”.
“Now when things are beginning to go badly wrong with the Cardy/ Pleasurama deal the Labour approved confidentiality clause, publically signed off by Johnston and Everitt in 2015, is being used to close down and prevent what should have been major public debate in Ramsgate. For a party which supposedly supports openness, transparency and accountability in government Thanet Labour have, in my opinion, stabbed the residents of Ramsgate in the back. I wonder just who’s arses and reputations they were trying to protect by approving a clause in the development agreement which effectively prevents the truth from coming out about massive mismanagement of this major £multi-million project which has stalled for over decade and ruined the town’s seafront. Maybe their own?”
Driver added that “two days ago I thought I was the only person in Thanet subject to a politically motivated gagging order which had been approved by Labour Party political bosses. It now turns out that I was wrong. The confidentially clause in the Pleasurama agreement which was approved by Labour, is now being used to silence 56 democratically elected councillors and subvert democratic debate and accountability over this hugely important issue”.