Saturday, January 10, 2009

Where do I begin?

This is a long posting but please read it carefully...

Below are two postings that contain Cllr Mark Hannons responses to the questions that I asked three or four weeks ago. After reading through them carefully, I found that they contained inaccuracies, things that are inconsistent with things that the council have already stated about the issue of Coatham and in quite a few cases, Mark Hannon has conveniently side stepped the questions that I have asked him and not answered the question at all.

Lets go through them and scrutinise what he has said.

I aked him..."You say that you hope to be on site in April, but by that do you mean the council or Persimmon?"

He replied..."1. Persimmon will be responsible for managing the construction of all the public elements works on the Council's behalf, in addition to the construction of private and commercial elements.Technically, therefore, it will be Persimmon and their contractors who will be on site".

From this answer, we can now see exactly why the council have been maintaining since the scheme was introduced, that Persimmon will be providing 'the leisure' in the Coatham Scheme.

The councils spin doctors have cleverly manipulated the English language, once again, to try and lead people to believe something that is true to a certain degree, because as we can see Persimmon are in charge of the construction of all elements of the scheme, but its not really the truth because Persimmon aren't funding or providing in real terms, any of the leisure facilities at all.

They haven't signed a 106 agreement that binds them to providing any leisure in the Coatham scheme and they aren't funding any leisure facilities as part of the scheme. The council have attracted no private or public funding for any leisure elements of the scheme, so the only money that they have got for any leisure will be through the sale of the land and through the council borrowing at the last count £10.5,000,000.

Persimmon are no more than project managers for the scheme, overseeing everything.

Persimmon, they've not got a bad deal have they? Not only are the tax payers of Redcar and Cleveland paying for Persimmons' legal and consultancy fees, not only are the tax payers of the borough contributing to the construction of a seadefence in Coatham that is the sole responsibility of Persimmon, not only are the tax payers paying for the leisure facilities in the scheme because the council are borrowing money to provide a new leisure centre and pool something that the council, and the MP, said all along they would never do, we now know that Persimmon will basically be acting as project managers for the whole lot and as such, probably being paid for that 'service' aswell?

I asked him... "Also, as none of the 47 planning conditions attached to this development have been addressed yet, but have to be before work begins, could you confirm that all 47 planning conditions will be addressed before work begins? None more so than the construction of a seadefence estimated to cost between £12,000,000 and £14,000,000? It would appear to me that if you are hoping to be on site in April, then you better start on the seadefence straight away to give you at least the remotest of chances of having the seadefence completed before the houses are completed".

He replied... "2. Not all of the 47 planning conditions are required to be satisfied prior to work commencing but those that do will be complied with. This equally applies to the conditions in respect of the sea wall."

So not all of the 47 planning conditions have to be satisfied prior to work beginning, but as we understand, none of the 47 planning conditions have even been agreed in writing by Persimmon and if Persimmon are hoping to be on site in April, why hasn't the construction of the Coatham Sea defence already begun?

I asked him... "Will you confirm that the whole site will be cleared of landmines and contaminants before the work actually begins in April? Afterall, this is something that is set down in Persimmons own planning application, as having to be done before work even starts".

He replied... "3.The planning condition will be fully complied with respect of ground conditions".

A very cleverly worded response that despite what it may suggest, gives no guarantees whatsoever. There are no planning conditions that pertain to the clearing of all the suspected unexploded ordnance in the ground at Coatham or the eradication of contaminants that are in the ground there either. The clearing of the landmines and the cleaning of the contaminants are set down in Persimmons' own planning application as having to be done before work commences, the problem for Persimmon with that is, that the process of clearing the area of landmines alone would be so expensive, that the whole scheme would become financially unviable.

From Cllr Hannons response I would suggest that we should be vary wary about Persimmon following the things that are set down in their own planning application.

I asked him..."Will you confirm that action will be taken against Simon Dale for breaking DEFRAS rules in changing an EA planning condition, without consent or consultation, regarding the construction of the seadefence?"

He replied..."4. No such action against Simon Dale is proposed".

I can only ask why is no action being proposed? In a series of emails that we obtained under the Freedom Of Information act, we have discovered that an employee of the EA told Council Officer Ian Hopley, that another officer of the council had changed the final wording of the EA's planning condition regarding the construction of the Coatham Seadefence, without consent or consultation from or with the EA. He clearly states in these emails that it is very unlikely that the EA would have agreed to the final wording of the changed planning condition and In doing what he did, the officer concerned had gone directly against DEFRA's guidelines and broken their rules.

How can it be that Simon Dale, an officer of the council who has been openly described in a tribunal as someone who had told lies to the tribunal and whos actions brought the council into disrepute, has now broken a department of the Governments rules and yet this council has no intentions of reprimanding him in any way?

I asked him..."Could you tell me why public money is being spent on providing the seadefence in Coatham, something which is the sole responsibility of Persimmon?"

He replied..."5. The sea wall will remain Council property and, therefore, is not Persimmon's responsibility".

This answer is so vague, I have already emailed him asking him to clarify it.

I will not jeopardise any answer that I may receive by commenting yet, but what I will say is that the construction of the seadefence that has to be built as part of the Coatham scheme, was the sole responsibility of Persimmon Homes PLC. At the Shoreline Management Plan meeting, held at the Coatham Memorial Hall on May 9th 2007 Gregor Guthrie, the principal engineer with Royal Haskoning the company who did the report for the SMP, said in front of a large audience and cabinet member Peter Scott, that the area of the Coatham Enclosure was a natural sea defence and that the standpoint here was and I quote, "Hold the line DO NOTHING". He then went onto say that if Persimmon wanted to build houses on that floodplain, then it was their responsibility to make the area safe by constructing the seadefence.

I asked him..."Could you tell me why the cost of the boating lake refurbishment has risen from approximately £50,000 to over £700,000?"

Then I asked him "Could you tell me why Persimmon are no longer contributing to this cost?

And then I asked him "Could you tell me why it was stated in the Gazette in 2006 that the boating lake improvements were not part of the Coatham Scheme but complimentary to it, to then suddenly become part of the Coatham scheme at the planning meeting the following year, to now become, once again, nothing to do with the Coatham Scheme?"

He replied..."6. The boating lake and surrounding environment is and will remain Council property, and therefore no financial contribution is being made by Persimmon. The works were commissioned in accordance with Public Procurement procedures".

7. The boating lake and surrounding environment has always been included in the Masterplan for the Coatham development as it an essential public open space element of the scheme. The distinction simply reflects the fact the improvement works being carried out at the boating lake do not require planning permission.

I asked three qusetions that he did not give me answers to? So once again I have asked him to give me answers to the questions that I actually did ask He fails to answer why the cost of the works on the boating lake have risen to nearly a million pounds from just approximately £50,000. He fails to answer why Persimmon, who were going to make a contribution to that original sum of fifty grand are now contributing nothing at all and he fails to answer why, the boating lake has one minute not been a part of the scheme but complimentary to it, then become a part of the scheme at the planning meeting, to then go back to not being part of the scheme once again?

I asked him..."Could you tell me why, when Persimmon have already downed tools on sites around the country because of the stagnant housing market and because of the country sliding into recession where as a result, people aren't even buying cars and Christmas presents let alone houses, why the council are so optimistic that they are going to be on site next April when so many major hurdles, in just making the area safe, still havent even been addressed yet, let alone physically tackled?"

He replied..."8. The Council is working with Persimmon to commence the scheme at the earliest opportunity. While there are still a number of issues to address, works on site can commence before Persimmon start to construct housing.

Once again, he fails to answer my question. And what is significant here is that on site in April, has now become at the "earliest opportunity".

I asked..."Could you possibly tell me why there has been no council investigation into the massive conflict of interests between Mrs Veronica Moore who was pushing the 5GP surgery now included as part of the Coatham scheme as board member of the PCT, whilst her husband Colin, do you remember him? was pushing it as head of the council?"

He replied...9. No evidence of conflict of interests between Veronica Moore and Colin Moore has been produced.

This answer had me actually laughing out loud. We made it public in February 2007, that Colin Moores wife Veronica, was on the board of the local Primary Care Trust, pushing the inclusion of a 5GP surgery as part of the new leisure centre in the Coatham Scheme (she actually did a site visit of the old Coatham surgery that they want to move over to the Enclosure, with the Chief Executive of the PCT) and was at the meeting where the recommendations to include it were voted on and passed whilst her husband Colin, who was then Chief Executive of the council, was pushing all aspects of the Coatham Scheme as he had taken the unprecedented step of taking the planning department directly under his control. Shortly after all of this scandal was made public, Veronica Moore resined her position on the board of the PCT.

At the count for the 2007 elections, when I confronted him with these facts, an irate Colin Moore said to me and I quote "She voted against it you ignorant pig". At this, another election candidate intervened and pointed out to Mr Moore that there were six or seven PCT board members votes in favour and one abstention. He then asked Colin Moore where was the vote against? Mr Moore left in a hurry. Mr Ray Richardson now ex-finance officer then said to this other candidate "even though they are married, they dont talk about these things at home".

And what was Leader of the council George Dunnings response to all of this at best malpractise? In one word and I quote "naughty". Nothing further was said and no action was taken.

Still...what can you expect when George twice called for Moores investigation whilst in opposition, but when in power he let him out the back door with a two year enhanced pay deal, massive pension and glowing appraisal in the press?

I asked..."Can you tell me why the council and Persimmon were both employing the same solicitors and consultants to do reports and surveys about the gross housing requirements and the contaminants in the land at Coatham, a year before the LEISURE, not housing development, was even advertised?"

He replied..."10.Persimmon commissioned the necessary site condition surveys, not the Council. Persimmon employs Ward Hadaway while the Council employs Eversheds in respect of legal matters for the Coatham scheme. It is not clear which reports and surveys you are referring to in respect of 'gross housing requirements'. The Council employed its own consultant as part of necessary due diligence process".

Once again Cllr Hannon failed to answer the question. He then attempts to glean information from me that the council is already aware of. This issue was taken to the Ombudsman last year. The Ombudsman refused to take any action stating that because it happened in 2001, it fell out outside of their year time frame. The point was put to them that the information about this conflict of interests had only recently come to light and that even though it happened seven years previously, it was still wrong. The Ombudsman 'sympathised', but still took no action.

I asked him..."Could you tell me why the council are hoping to build a media and youth centre, also comprising a drugs counselling centre, on an area of the Coatham Enclosure that has already been designated for the building of a bowling alley as part of the Coatham scheme? A bowling Alley that the now ex-Chief Executive and ex-member for economic development have stated publicly, that they had funding for as far back as 2006? Why is something that isn't part of the Coatham scheme, replacing something that is part of the Coatham scheme and not only that, replacing something that they are supposed to have full funding for?"

He replied..."11. The proposed location for the Youth Centre is the site currently shown on the Master plan as a Visitor Centre. Construction of a Visitor Centre has always been an aspiration dependent upon separate funding being secured. Construction of the Youth Centre is dependent upon Big Lottery funding being secured. A grant application has been submitted by the Council and the result of a first stage assessment is expected in February 2009.12. The March Press statement you refer to reflects the Council’s position at that time".

This answer not only contradicts what we have already been told by the council, it also demonstrates the councils eagerness to try and con not just the public, but the High Court itself. When the Media and Youth centre was first mooted in the press, a member of our group contacted the council and asked exactly where this centre was going to be situated within the site? They were told that it was going to be on the site that used to be the old baths which in the Coatham Plans, is referred to as the site for D2 leisure. This was the building that had been designated to accomodate the new bowling alley that Colin Moore and Vera Moody had already stated publicly in 2006, they had funding for.

But here is Mark Hannon telling me now that they are hoping to build the Youth Centre on the site of the Visitors centre?

This begs so many questions. From day one the council have been insisting that there will be a visitors centre as part of this scheme, we have been saying that there would not be because they have no funding for it. I have been ridiculed and attacked verbally and called a liar on Redcar.Net amongst other places, for even suggesting this. And yet here it is in black and white. The council are now hoping to put a Youth and drugs centre on the site of the visitors centre. THERE IS GOING TO BE NO VISITORS CENTRE!

But what about the council officer telling a member of our group that this Youth centre is going to go on the D2 site? And what about council officer Alan Logan telling a magistrate at the footpath hearing in 2007, that a visitor centre was definitely part of the scheme, only to tell the same magistrate, when I pointed certain contradictions between what the council had put out and his statement, that it wasn't going to be part of the scheme and that the site that the visitors centre was going to go on was going to be kept as open space and not sold to Persimmon. Mr Logan then submitted a statement to three different High Courts and two high courts of appeal that said that there was infact going to be a visitor centre?

The thing that was going to, according to this council, make this scheme a development of regional importance, was that Visitor Centre. Without it, as I was told by a man from English Partnerships in 2006, the Coatham Scheme was just another housing estate in just another town and as such, the council couldn't hope to attract the funding for any of the other leisure facilities for the scheme.

Welcome to the Coatham Enclosure Ladies and Gentlemen "A housing estate with a baths paid for with borrowed money that you will pay back through your council tax!" This is what the council have known all along but tried to make you believe otherwise. They have lied to you and they have lied to the High Court.

I asked..."To be honest Mark, your latest statement about Coatham was akin to the less than honest press release that both you and George Dunning issued in March. You know, the one where you made out that the village green process was over when in reality you both knew that it wasn't because the council had already notified opposing solicitors before the release was even issued, that the council themselves were intending to take the issue to the High Court. Could you tell me why you did that Mark?"

He replied..."12. The March Press statement you refer to reflects the Council’s position at that time".

I cannot believe that Cllr Hannon actually perjured himself in that answer because as has already been proven, this council had already notified opposing solicitors of their intention to take the the village green issue to judicial review, weeks before Mssrs Dunning and Hannon put out their press release that failed to mention this and which led people to believe that the village green process was over, which we all know now, simply wasn't true.

I asked him.."Why are the council still pressing ahead with the scheme when the leader of the council has described the planning process for Coatham as tainted and the MP has described the Coatham scheme on radio as a disaster?"

He replied..."The Council fully supports the Coatham Scheme and the benefits that the scheme will deliver".

To me this doesn't constitute a reasonable answer. Infact he hasn't answered my question. How can Cllr Hannon regard tainted and disaster as decent foundations of any development let alone one that is supposed to regenerate the whole area? How can there be any benefits coming from something which as been described as a disaster? This answer shows exactly the mentality of this man and this council. If the captain of the Titanic knew that disaster laid ahead, do you think that he would have changed his course or do you think that he would have carried on regardless and ploughed headlong into the iceberg?

You dont carry on with something when you know that the outcome is going to be a disaster.

I asked him..."Why are the council still pressing ahead with the scheme when the MP has already stated publicly that there is no funding for any of the leisure facilities that have been touted by the council for four and a half years and when the only leisure facility that is now featuring is being paid for through prudential borrowing?"

He replied..."2. Capital funding source for the scheme remains unchanged. Financing of the leisure elements will come from the funding package for the whole scheme.

How can he say that when he has, by conceding that there will be no visitor centre, admitted that there is no funding. I think that he uses the word aspiration when talking about providing a visitors centre that this council have always made out to the public, was definitely going to happen. The MP has said publicly they have no funding for the scheme and she said that two and a half years ago before the credit crunch began. Dave Fitzpatrick and Chris Abbott both said the same in 2006 in the press, that they had had received no funding for the scheme

I asked..."Why, when the MP has already stated that there is no funding for any leisure, did the ex-CEO and cabinet member for economic development state publicly that the funding for all the leisure, including the bowling alley, was in place? Which statement is true?

He replied..."3. I am not in a position to answer the questions you direct to Vera Baird MP, the previous ex CEO and previous cabinet member. That would be a matter for them to address.

Once again, he fails to answer my questions. As cabinet member for ecconomic development, is he seriously trying to tell me that he has no knowledge of or interest in, anything that has gone before him? But more than this, he is member for ecconomic development, he should know what funding is in place and therefore in a position to tell me which of the contradicting statements is true.

I asked him..."Why, when building thousands of houses on hundreds of acres of land has not regenerated our town and the town is in decline and this process started long before the credit crunch, do you and the council believe that another 359 houses being built on just 20 or so acres will turn the fortunes of the town around?

He replied..."4. The Coatham scheme has never been presented as a panacea for dealing with numerous economic and social issues that Redcar faces. However, the Council firmly believes that the scheme will deliver much needed benefits both to the town and the Borough, assisting in addressing these wider issues. Such regeneration schemes are not short - term solutions but provide most added value over the longer term.

How does he, or the council now have the nerve to say that this scheme has never been presented as a way of dealing with the ecconomic and social issues that Redcar faces? How many times have you heard the spin that this development will regenerate Redcar, bring in 1.2 million visitors to the town, create jobs and all of the other rubbish? Does anyone remember the slogan from "From a vision to reality"?or "From ordinary to extraordinary" In the various court cases regarding this scheme, the council themselves have stated to the court how the scheme will regenerate the town and have always asked for expediency to be shown by the court because of this. I have asked him which of the statements thta have been made about Coatham are true? The ones that he has made himself about the scheme regenerating Redcar, or the one he has made in his reply that says the scheme has never been touted by the council as an answer to the towns problems?

And as for his longer term value? Where are all of the leisure facilities attracted to this town by all the houses that have been built over the last ten to twenty years. Where is the longer term benefit to our town as a result of all of those houses being built? We have had thousands of houses built in Redcar and yet we are massively in decline and this process started long before the credit crunch. Cllr Hannon knows that all of this extra housing and any more housing at Coatham wouldn't regenerate this town, he just doesn't have the grace to admit it, or that the current council and previous councils, have gotten it massively wrong in our town.

I asked him " Why, when the planning process had already been described as tainted by George Dunning and when George Dunning and Vera Baird had, after the High Court Decision last December that stated that the planning process was unlawful, state publicly that they had known all along that it was unlawful and had even warned the old coalition that what they were doing was wrong, did the Labour controlled council then challenge the Judicial Review over the planning process?"

If the Labour leader and the Labour MP and the Labour group had all known at the time of the planning meeting in April 2007, that what was happening was unlawful, even to the point of warning the old coalition about their actions, then why did they defend the process that they knew to be unlawful all along in the High Court?

More than this, why was it Persimmon who appealled against the High Courts decision and not the council and even worse, when the original High Court decision was overturned at appeal, why didn't George Dunning and the Labour MP who had spoken out so strongly about knowing how the whole planning process had been unlawful from the start, did they not say a word about it or condemn the High Court of Appeal for overturning something that they had already stated publicly, that they knew was unlawful all along?

He replied..."5. The planning process for the Coatham planning permission has been fully tested in court. Persimmon successfully appealed against the decision that removed the planning permission by judicial challenge.

6. It was appropriate for Persimmon to appeal, as the applicant whose planning permission was removed as a result of the initial Judicial Challenge.

Once again, he completely ignores the main thrust of my questions, preferring to cherry pick what he wants to answer. The question still needs answering. The Labour leader of the council and the Labour group and the Labour MP all knew that the Coatham planning process was unlawful when it took place in April 2007. They have stated this publicly. They have also stated publicly that this is the reason why they did not appeal the High Court decision that ruled the planning process was unlawful. So knowing this, why did they spend thousands and thousands of pounds defending something that they all knew to be unlawful?

It's okay to say well the Coatham Planning permission has been tested in court, both at the original High Court Heraing and at the appeal court some six months later, but when the planning meeting for Coatham was held some nine months previous to the first hearing, the Labour leader and MP have admitted publicly that they knew or lets give them the benefit of the doubt, believed, that process was unlawful, so why did they even defend that process in the High court in the first place?

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