Wednesday, 6 February 2013

"You and I will never agree on the morality of this!" Says Westover councillor as Rickards robustly defends Tesco Fee Payment

Following the revelations last December that Sedgemoor's chief Executive Kerry Rickards had authorised the payment of £20,200 worth of fees towards Tesco's planned development on Bridgwater's Brewery Field in a deal arranged with Somerset County Council, the man in the hotseat finally faced his critics at his own councils Corporate Scrutiny Committee this Monday (4th February 2013).

Committee Chairman Cllr Brian Smedley (Labour,Bridgwater Westover) allowed members of the Public and Councillors to directly question the Chief Executive and then opened up the meeting to members of the Scrutiny Committee.

'the Council simply rolled over'

Cllr Julian Taylor (Labour, Bridgwater Eastover) asked 'What went so wrong with the negotiations with Tesco that things had to be resolved in this way? This is the first time that Sedgemoor has paid or reduced a planning fee and it looks like this was either a considered decision over a long period of time or that the Council has simply rolled over and given in to a major multinational."

'you and I will never agree on the morality of this'
"You chose to subsidise a company that is making
£39billion of pre tax profits!" Cllr Pearce

Cllr Kathy Pearce (Labour, Bridgwater Westover) said "Why wasn't Council fully informed of the facts of the matter when members first asked these questions at Full Council on 24th October and why did it have to take over a month for us to unearth these facts through subsequent  investigations? The moral issue here is that Somerset County Council are making big cuts  - some 45million pounds worth , and yet you chose to subsidise a company that is making 39billion pounds pre tax profits. It seems that you and I will never agree on the morality of this."

'Tesco....promise loads then forget about it'

Cllr Ian Tucker (Labour, Bridgwater Dunwear) said "This idea to pay the fees was clearly instigated by Kerry Rickards and you were under no obligation to. It seems you are so afraid of losing the Tesco deal yet the reality is that their record shows they promise loads and then forget about it once the deal is done."

'Only carrying out council policy'

Kerry Rickards defended his position saying that he was "Only carrying out Council policy." He explained that "The previous decision of Council was to dispose of the Northgate site to Tesco Stores ltd" and that "The planning application had been received on 26 September 2012, but in october an impasse was reached regarding the calculation of the planning fee concerning the definition of the undercroft parking area, and in order to resolve this stalemate"  and in pursuance of council policy he  had intervened  to solve this and "had the authority to make this decision". He said this decision had been ".. taken in 3 seconds during a 5 minute conversation with Kevin Nacey at Somerset County".

"Are Sedgemoor actively pursuing Tesco for recovery?"

Cllr Mick Lerry (Labour, Bridgwater Victoria) pointed to a letter between Labour County Councillor Dave Loveridge (Bridgwater North & Central) which had been circulated and which asked Somerset County directly if the deal "..required Tesco to reimburse them at some point."  To which SCC had replied "SCC fully expects to have its contribution returned if SDC is succesful in obtaining further fees from Tesco." Cllr Lerry asked "So is there an agreement to reimburse Somerset and are Sedgemoor actively pursuing Tesco for recovery of the full ammount?"

'Never say never'

Mr Rickards replied "In the unlikely event that this is offered, Somerset will be reimbursed, but we are not actively pursuing this . However, never say never."

'like pulling teeth'
"Tesco have avoided paying a £20,200 planning fee"
Chairman Brian Smedley

The Committee 'noted' the report. After the meeting the chairman Cllr Smedley said "There doesn't seem to be an issue that Mr Rickards has not acted within his rights in this matter. The question remains about the morality of that action. Whether at this time SDC or SCC should be seen to be caving in to a powerful multinational and effectively subsidising its planning bid when this isn't the norm for other local developers. The other issue for us is clearly the tooth-pulling nature of trying to get these facts out of them. The fact remains at the end of the day that as a result of this decision , Tesco have avoided paying a £20,200 planning application fee and had their application registered with the help of public funds."