Council Leader says senior officers acted inappropriately, officers say leader not only knew but approved of their actions.
The council’s secretive relationship with developer Quinn Estates has been exposed via a Freedom of Information request which has highlighted that some of the councils most senior officers colluded with Quinn Estates on a bid for taxpayer funding to support unplanned developments such as the Kent Science Park’s mass house building programme. Questions have also been raised after the discovery of a contract between Swale Borough Council and Quinn Estates which would allow Quinn Estates to direct the scope of critical traffic modelling evidence.
Quinn Estates now have unprecedented access to all levels of local government, which perhaps shouldn’t be all that surprising given their insider contacts courtesy of ex-public-sector staff on their payroll. However, when a developer is in a position of drafting bids for taxpayer money to directly support their own developments, surely a line has been crossed.
Quinn Estates were instrumental in the drafting of a bid to the Housing Infrastructure Fund submitted to
The new transport model is supposed to provide an independent and transparently procured evidence base for the promotion of the emerging local plan review. However, it would also be the basis for Transport Assessments for Quinn Estates developments including the Kent Science Park.
However, the Kent Science Park isn’t included in the current local plan and has no part to play in any review of the present local plan, in fact the only reason that this would even be considered, is if Swale Borough Council were planning to scrap the recently adopted local plan and create an entirely new local plan.
A council spokesperson told us “The Housing Infrastructure Fund Forward Funding bid submitted had input from a number of parties, including Quinn Estates, but editorial control and the content of the final bid submitted rested with Swale and KCC officers. KCC
If that was true, why is it that Quinn Estates were the only developer included or referenced in any of the email correspondence we have obtained and why then would Cllr Andrew Bowles state at a full council meeting that “he agreed that it would not be appropriate for Quinn Estates to have written the first draft.”
It simply doesn’t make any sense.
Cllr Monique Bonney who spoke at the meeting said “Where is the division between this council and the developer and where is the accountability to the local people that we represent. It’s absolutely disgraceful
Cllr Mike Baldock told us “I struggle to understand just how Cllr Bowles could claim that he felt it inappropriate that Quinns were involved in drafting the HIF bid when the statement from the council clearly shows that he had approved the process from the start. Is he saying that he is now willing to allow inappropriate activity by his staff, or was he simply not able to understand what it was he was agreeing to?”
To further compound the council's troubles I have requested* an internal review after the same top tier of officers, including Regeneration Director, Emma Wiggins, Head of Planning, James Freeman and Spatial Planning Manager, Gill Harris failed to disclose relevant material under
*As a point of clarification I originally suggested that the internal review was in progress, however, I am led to believe that the Council is yet to decide whether or not to conduct the internal review, the result of which has to be provided by 27th March 2018
In an effort to justify their actions the council told us “We were aware that in progressing the Local Plan review, as required by the Planning Inspector, it would need to be accompanied by a new Transport Strategy. In order to do this, we would be required to undertake transport modelling across the whole borough. We were also aware that Quinn Estates were preparing to undertake their own transport modelling work to support their case for the Kent Science Park focussed development. It is common practice for a planning authority working in partnership with the highways authorities, to liaise with potentially interested parties on the production of a base transport model rather than having separate base models, duplicating significant costs and potentially having arguments about different model base data and results after expensive base models have been produced. “
“This process is considered to be the most cost-effective procurement for transport modelling and in no way prejudices our independent preparation of the Local Plan. The Cabinet Member for Planning was fully aware of the approach being taken and the anticipated costs and work programme involved had been previously reported through the LDF Panel / Cabinet through the drafting of the Local Development Scheme (LDS) and had been budgeted for.”
However, after contacting several members of the LDF panel, I have so far been unable to find anyone that had any knowledge of this what-so-ever. Cllr Gerry Lewin who chairs the LDF Panel has repeatedly ignored requests to explain any of our findings or even tell us at which LDF meeting members sanctioned this.
Cllr Mike Baldock who sits on the LDF panel said in response “At the June 2017 meeting it was made quite clear the LDF Panel would be consulted on the extent, resourcing and timescale of the review. Bearing in mind that this was before the Local Plan was even adopted by the council it is difficult to see how far the council has gone without consulting the members in any form as required by the resolution agreed at the meeting.”
Cllr Roger Truelove Leader of the Labour Group told us "The Labour Group feels ill at ease about the whole process of local strategic planning. So many decisions seem to be caught up in a tight web and at the centre of it, one particular developer appears to have too close a relationship with the Council. Were this a Labour-led Council we would not have a developer playing an apparently favoured role in making Housing Infrastructure bids or aligning with the Council on transport planning around sites in which they have a massive interest. It would not be common practice."
Showing comments 1 to 15 of 15
It is very worrying that the corruption that has been rife in Westminster for years, not only with the MP's but also the Peers and most of all the civil servants is now being transferred to local authorities. What has happened to the honesty and integrity of our local councillors?
As for the planning, I have never known so many planning committee decisions to be called in because Mr Freeman does not like what the elected members have decided, rightly or wrongly. If the decision by the members is wrong, then the officers should be pointing out the relevant rules that make it wrong and what is required to put the decision right.
Back to the issue in hand, if there is clear evidence of corruption not only with elected members, of which I have know to have been going on for years but never been able to prove it, but officers as well, and it can be proved beyond reasonable doubt, then all of those persons regardless of status should be reported to the Police as a matter of urgency. If criminal offences are being committed knowingly, then there is no place for these persons as either officers of Swale Borough Council or elected members. All are there to represent the local people, not their own back pockets. It strikes me, that certain persons at Swale Borough Council at present are absolutely no different to the Tories in Westminster, or in fact the MP's and Peers in general. They need kicking out and they need to be taken to task by the Police, if they are found to be corrupt, then they must be charged and face the full weight of the law. The ultimate wording though is "Beyond Reasonable Doubt".
Swale is not alone in being preyed upon by land speculators (also known as developers) out to make a quick profit. The same mode of attack on the countryside is used time and time again as the following link shows:
Is there a url for the original FoI? Quinn Estates floated a brochure regarding a prospective Garden Village at Manston Airport, which I don't think was for general circulation judging by the vigorous response when it became public.
I suspect that Quinn have also "infiltrated" Thanet District Council - your FoI could give me some idea of how to frame a similar one to TDC
Okay this stinks to high heaven, but first we need to establish the facts.
1- all email correspondence between Quinn estates and SBC needs to be disclosed. There will be a lot of stalling, but unfortunately historic traffic can be sourced via the ISP - an unintended consequence of the current anti terror legislation
2- follow the money trail - quinn estates enjoy many of the benefits of creating and terminating shell companies - the documentation at Companies house is very anodyne, any decent request would be looking to HMRC to track the vat exempts filings
3- Quinn has been very careful not to contribute to Mr Bowles or the local Conservative Party directly. It may b worth checking conservative organisations in the Kent area. Pay attention to the timing of the payments and key decisions being made by messrs. Bowles and Lewis
Surely those involved must now stand down pending an immediate, independent and full enquiry.
IF "there is an internal review" occurring - QUESTION: Is that simply a "Planning office desk/task/re-shuffle"; Or, a matter under "Disciplinary/HR/DPI scenario" ? There is a difference.
In the meantime, Transport Assessments - usually compiled by a Developer's OWN Consultant Specialist - are obviously designed to "be waved-through" within the various legislation requirements. It is up to Highways England, KCC Highways, and then SBC Planning to Consider/Rebut/Suggest alternatives etc.etc. to be brought back into the Design&Access requirements . . .
Got to start somewhere . . .
Just take a scroll through the Monday 5 March SBC Planning Committee delegated for approval OUTLINE 16/508602 - transport considerations, still ongoing saga, with the "Larger Area" implications of A2/A251/M2/A299 Melting-Pot . . . and with HE and KCC Highways still batting . . .