Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Outrage as Council Chief authorises payment of Tesco planning application fee

Labour Councillor's question moral and
technical legality of payment

 At the end of September Labour Councillors  were gearing themselves up to respond to the long awaited submission of the Tescos planning application for a megastore on Bridgwater's Brewery Field. When by the end of october this was still sat in the Councils in-tray they naturally began to ask questions.

The Sedgemoor Tories had gone to great lengths over the past years to make the Northgate area available for a new development including demolishing the popular Sedgemoor Splash swimming pool and putting the site out to potential developers. Only the multinational giant Tescos came up with the goods for them.

"Considering the level of opposition to the closure of the Splash, the loss of the green open space and the potential for long term damage to the town centre should a Tesco extra be built on Northgate the Labour group were keen to get into the planning process as soon as possible " said Cllr Brian Smedley who represents the Westover ward where the store is to be built "and with this in mind we asked at Full Council on October 24th why the Application was still in the in tray only to be told there were 'technical reasons' which couldn't be divulged."

'technical issues'

Not content with this the Labour group continued to investigate to get to the bottom of the matter and on November 12th had a special meeting with Corporate Directors including Chief Executive Kerry Rickards who confirmed that the 'technical issues' had been a confrontation between SDC and Tesco about the level of the planning fees which he had finally chosen to resolve by paying a proportion of them from Council funds under his delegated powers.

'News sparked outrage'
Cllr Tucker "indefensible waste
of public money"

 This news sparked outrage amongst the Labour group members present with cllr Kathy Pearce (Westover)  commenting  "There  are small traders such as those at West Quay who have been constantly told there is ‘no budget for a hardship fund’ yet there seems to be one for a Multinational" and Cllr Ian Tucker (Dunwear) who said "This is a disgraceful and indefensible waste of public money in a move that can only be seen as lining the pockets of one of Britains richest company's. It's simply a slap in the face of many small businesses who wish to expand but struggle to meet the normal planning fees."

"Three seconds to decide"

The Chief Executive  responded by saying that for him this was not a difficult decision as it took him only three seconds to decide to waive the fee and he was prepared to defend this position in the Press.

A delegation of senior Labour councillors - group leader Mick Lerry and Chairs of the two Scrutiny committees Julian Taylor and Brian Smedley discussed options with the Monitoring Officer  for reviewing this decision with members and getting the issue aired publically and have now agreed that the subject should form an agenda item on the Corporate Scrutiny Committee meeting of December 3rd.

"transparency and accountability"

Chairman of Corporate Scrutiny , Cllr Smedley, said  "Given the fundamental importance of respecting and upholding the separate roles of the Council as a landowner and as a Local Planning Authority if public confidence is to be maintained in the Council’s ability to determine Tesco’s planning application for the Northgate Development in an entirely impartial manner when it clearly has such a large financial interest in the outcome, it is vital that there is complete openness, transparency and accountability regarding the background to, details of and reasons for the Chief Executive’s decision made on 31 October 2012 to pay part of Tesco’s planning application fee for the Northgate Development despite this being Tesco’s responsibility under the terms of the sale contract (Development Agreement) for the Northgate Site dated 5 October 2011."

Cllr Taylor (Eastover) said I am very concerned that when the council is expecting householders to pay full planning application fees for alterations to their homes that a multibillion pound company, Tescos, should be offered a reduction in the fee. Whose side are the council administration on , ordinary people or big business?”
Brian Smedley Chair of Corporate Scrutiny

Cllr Smedley has circulated every Sedgemoor Councillor with a confidential note regarding his personal views on the matter in hand in advance of the meeting.

The Corporate Scrutiny Committee meeting will be held at 2.30 on Monday 3rd December.

1 comment:

  1. Arthur D. Cummins29 November 2012 at 15:05

    Arrogance in public servants should be made a criminal offense. How much of SDC tax-payers' money was given away to Tesco? Why didn't Rickard pay it from his own resources? How is it he & apparently all the Tory Councillors have no concept of their own public responsibilities or either the meaning or spirit of Democracy? Just because they are confident the sheep-like voters of their party will re-elect them, doesn't mean they should behave like autocrats. What integrity do they pretend to possess?