Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Just like David and Goliath...

Yesterday 5th February 10am at Teeside Magistrates court,all the might and strength of the councils legal team were beaten by a couple of members of our group and the truth.The council expected yesterday just to waltz into court and get a stopping up order granted on paths running along and across Coatham Common,paths that have existed there in some cases for approx 200 years, like the Dormans path which was fought for and won about six years ago on the golf club side of Majuba Road.
Early last year, residents and supporters of our group, applied to have these paths registered and added to the definitive map. If the council had refused then we would have had the right to appeal and a time consuming,public inquiry would have been held. So the council agreed to register them and then started the process to get them stopped up as soon as they had agreed them.The underhandedness in trying to get round us being heard by any sort of inquiry or judge, was then compounded by the council who, when advertising the stopping up of the paths and the court hearing in the press and on notices on sign posts,deliberately failed to invite objections from the public,even though under section 116 of the highways act we had the right to object and the right to be heard. What makes this deception worse is that the council however, invited objections from 24 utility companies, but shamefully, not the public.Perhaps because they knew what the outcome would be? They didnt want any objections from the public and they knew they would get them.They didnt want any opposition.When we eventually found out that we had the right to object and be heard in court,we found out that the whole issue had been allocated between 15 and 25 minutes in court because it was down as a non-contested hearing!
Out of courtesy on Friday,we informed the council that we had put in objections to the court.At six o'clock that same day,a senior member of the councils legal dept served one of our group with a pile of papers and a letter threatening us with costs for this and costs for that.Not only that,but we were informed that the council would be represented by one of the best barristers in the country,Mr George Lawrence QC! We knew for sure that their tactics were ones of threat and intimidation,because in the paragraph directly following the one about costs and who we would be facing in court, they said and I quote " We stress that the council is not,by informing you of these matters,intending to be in any way threatening or confrontational".
This council were spending literally thousands of pounds of public money, on one of the best legal minds in the country,to travel from London with his legal associate,to represent the council over something that they assumed was going to be a non-contested hearing, in a magistates court in Middlesbrough.
We decided as a group on Friday to not give in to the threat of costs and to the prospect of facing this legal heavy weight, and yesterday two members of our group stood up,in front of a judge,and won the right for the people who had finally objected, to be heard in court.As a result the case has been adjourned till next month due to the amount of people who want to have their say.George Lawrence QC tried to get it finished yesterday but the judge turned him down.The judge then informed the two members of our group not totake any notice of the letter that had been hand delivered because he would decide if costs would be granted. For me,Mr Lawrence then tried to save face for himself and the council because he announced that he welcomed the adjournment because a mistake had been made because he had set out the case based on a two day hearing and only 15 to 25 minutes had been allocated yesterday,but we know because the court had already told us that it was always down to be a non contested hearing.The lady who we spoke to in the court told us a week or so ago "They always are".

This whole issue shows a few things. Once again it shows the councils deception and their underhandedness in trying to force this unpopular housing scheme through.They constantly crow about how they are forever consulting with the public,but when it comes down to real consultation,consultation that could cost them the scheme,when it comes to informing people they can object and that they HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE HEARD IN COURT,THEY SIMPLY SAY NOTHING! Thats consultation RCBC style.Lie to people about fictitious leisure facilities that they have no funding for in order to get people to accept the thing they want most,the houses,but fail to tell the public that they have the right to be heard and to have their say so that perhaps their opinions will actually be considered and could alter things.
It also shows the level of deception by Cllr Chris Abbott and senior officer Simon Dale who said in a letter to residents of High Street West that they had no idea any work was being carried out on the Common.This whole issue since we applied to have those paths registered has been known about by all those in charge of this council.Work has been carried out there over a three month period to put in alternative paths in order to try and deflect any claim fromthe public that they are losing public rights of way.Just by coincidence,the councils alternative paths just happen to follow the paths and roads on the plans for the development. How can you have something planned out so well by this council and two senior figures not know anything about it especially as two or three public notices have appeared in the paper and a story too?
It shows the desperation of this council.Employing a barrister of George Lawrences calibre to represent the council in a magistrates court in Teeside over something that they thought was going to be straight forward? It shows just how desperate they are.Just how big of a sledgehammer do they need to crack a walnut?
It shows once again just how much money this council are spending on things that they shouldnt be.Remember,by rights, George Lawrences fees should have been paid by Persimmon homes.But because this council took the unprecedented step of committing the council to paying half of Persimmons consultancy fees and ALL of their legal fees,the public of this borough have to pay.We have shown how Colin Moore has instructed all depts of thecouncil to cease non essential spending immediately because the council are in the mire financially,yetthey can still find the money,OUR money to pay for the legal fees of the richest builder in the country? So that that builder can benefit massively financially from selling 359 luxury houses built on OUR coastline?
Lastly,it shows how the little man can actually stand up to the bullying,deception,intimidation and financial power of authorities like Redcar and Cleveland Borough council,and win the right to be heard.

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