Council Leader, Andrew Bowles
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 central government by Kent County Council. If successful £3 million of this funding would be spent on a new Strategic Transport Model for Swale which Quinn Estates will not only directly benefit from but also part own.
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 were the submitting authority. The approach adopted was discussed and agreed with the Leader and relevant senior members prior to work starting.”
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 Baldoc
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 a FOI
*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
language used in correspondence also highlights just how close a relationship council officers have with the Kent Science Park. Council leader Andrew Bowles said “he would be surprised and disappointed if this were true and would be having words with officers”
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.”
Cllr Gerry Lewin
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."