At the end of October we brought you the post –
In short it was about trying to secure via the Environmental Information Regulations, the Financial Viability Assessment for the Biggins Wood Site (Cheriton) , where the Council wish to build 77 homes, 54 light industrial units and two office blocks. It was a former brick works, then a rubbish tip until it was closed down and backfilled in the late 1970’s.
The council stepped in to buy the site because the market had failed to deliver the intended use.
Council Leader David Monk said in Jan 2017: “I am very pleased to announce the purchase of this land. We will start work this year (2017) to build 77 homes, including 23 affordable homes, along with high quality, modern workspace. This gives us an opportunity to help fulfil our key and on-going corporate objective to build more homes and create more jobs.” The Council granted themselves planning permission on this site as long ago as Oct 31st 2017
More than two years have past since the Council purchased the Biggins Wood Site using urgency powers signed of by then Corporate Director Dr Susan Priest for £300,000 more than the valuation.
In Jan 2017 the initial request for the Financial Viability Assessment was sent. Nine months on from the initial request it ended up at the Information Commissioners Office (ICO), who decided in favour of our public face, with their initial decision handed down on the Sept 13 2017. However, the Council decided to appeal to the First Tier Tribunal General Regulatory Chamber (Information Rights) as is their right. So on the 20th March 2018, the Council’s legal team, the ICO’s legal team and our public face, met at Fleetbank House London to have our case heard before Roger Creedon, Pieter de Waal and Judge Claire Taylor. On the 31st Oct 2018 the Tribunal handed down its ruling in favour of the ICO and our public face.
The Council were given until the 21st Nov 2018 to appeal, and appeal they did. However in mid December came the notice from the Tribunal which said in the email:
However, the attachment made it clear although the appeal had been dismissed it had also been set aside on a point of law.
Now if a tribunal rules in a majority case, ie there is a dissenting voice on a three judge panel, then the minority member’s reasons for dissenting must be given, as per SSWP v SS (DLA)  UKUT 384 (AAC) This the original tribunal Judge Claire Taylor failed to do, when she handed down her decision on 31st Oct 2018. So the Council although having their appeal dismissed managed to get it set aside upon a point of law. This means that all parties must reconvene at a date in the new year, with a different set of judges to go over the same material. At no point has our public face appealed, all the appealing has been done by our Council, Folkestone & Hythe District Council.
To date the appeal has cost the princely sum of £23,910 and is broken down so:
Now of course when we all reconvene at some point in the new year, in London no doubt, this will mean further costs for the Council, as they will pay for another barrister/QC to defend them and Mr Andy Jarrett may well have to take another day off to attend the Tribunal as the only witness.
Now the Financial Viability Assessment forms part of the planning application, and it is the Council applying to itself for planning permission. Under Part 2 Schedule 12A s9 of the Local Government Act 1972:
Information is not exempt information if it relates to proposed development for which the local planning authority may grant itself planning permission pursuant to regulation 3 of the Town and Country Planning General Regulations 1992
Therefore you would think that none of the information initially requested way back in Jan 2017 could be exempt information. But strangely it is, even though the above Act is supported by Reg 3 of The Town and Country Planning General Regulations 1992
Our Council seems very keen on spending other people’s money – local taxpayer money. It is not just the £23,910, this case has cost so far but also the Little Densole Farm Judicial Review fought and won by Mr Tim Steer; which cost the taxpayer nearly £50,000.
What we ask makes the information within the BNP Paribas Financial Viability Assessment (see pages 11,17,18,19 & 20 redacted) worth more than £23,910 to keep secret? Especially when the land was valued at £1.2 million by BNP Paribas but the Council paid £1.5 million, to convicted criminal Adrian Kirby and his company Biggins Wood Homes Ltd, owned by Ravensbourne Holding S.A.R.L. (Luxembourg) . And why two years on has the site not been developed when Cllr Monk made it very clear the development would begin in 2017. As always dear reader we’ll leave you to make up your own mind.
The Shepwayvox Team –
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