SBC ‘Spook’ Censors Mundane Planning Doc

SBC ‘Spook’ Censors Mundane Planning Doc

  • TIM THORNE winkles out the truth (well – a tiny bit of it) about Councillor Tom Fox’s abortive attempt to sell off Scarborough Town Hall and move the Council en masse to a semi-derelict office-block out on the fringes of the Empire.

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Real Whitby readers may remember the 2012 attempts by Scarborough Borough Council (SBC) to move the Town Hall, based on St Nicholas Street in the heart of Scarborough town centre, to an industrial estate on the edge of the Borough with no homes within half a mile of the proposed site.

Information unofficially emanating from SBC was that the move to Dunslow Road was scuppered by pre-planning advice given by East Riding of Yorkshire Council.

The story given to the local press by the Council differed considerably to the above and the Council claimed their sudden U-turn was the result of ‘listening to public opinion’.

SBC Council Leader Tom Fox said the Town Hall move was “not just about pounds, shillings and pence”. Fox also stated that “he had been strongly swayed by how the public saw the building and how it was the heart of the council which would have been lost if there had been a move to Prospect House”.

I thought it would be prudent to request sight of the pre-planning advice given by East Riding of Yorkshire Council via the FOI process. Given the woeful record of trying to get information from Scarborough Borough Council, I decided it would be best to approach East Riding of Yorkshire Council first.

I asked East Riding of Yorkshire Council (ERYC) for a copy of the pre-application advice on the 22nd August 2012. They responded two days later with a refusal citing client confidentiality; which seems a plausible reason for refusal. And yes, you read it correctly, ERYC replied to an FOI request in two days.

I then decided to ask Scarborough Borough Council directly for a copy of the pre-application advice on 24th August 2012. They sent an auto-response four days later advising me they would respond by 25th September 2012.

No response was received. Autumn came and went. Winter came, but no response from SBC. Spring ended without a response from SBC. Then we had the start of our current glorious summer. In total, five reminders were ignored by SBC. Only when SBC received correspondence from the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) did they decide it was time to answer the FOI request. I’m sure they’ll be getting a very public slap from the ICO for their non-compliance with the FOI Act in the near future.

On the 17th July 2013, nearly eleven months after I first made the FOI request, SBC Solicitor and Deputy Monitoring Officer, David Kitson, saw fit to release a copy of the pre-application advice. A picture of the redacted document is at the foot of this article.

Unfortunately, the document was so heavily redacted by SBC that it is impossible to tell whether the pre-application advice given by ERYC advised them that they could or couldn’t legally move the civic function from St Nicholas Street to Dunslow Road. It appears that SBC even saw fit to redact the date of the document!

Other SBC Articles:

Cowboy Council has no Futurist

Private Eye slams SBC legal head Lisa Dixon

SBC sends legal letters to Real Whitby

How to waste £500,000

[Editor's Note: "Come on, Dave, are you having a larf?"]

[First published 24th July 2013]

ERYC_pre-Planning_Advice

17 Responses to "SBC ‘Spook’ Censors Mundane Planning Doc"

  1. rod mathers  July 24, 2013 at 6:50 pm

    The sheer insolence of the jumped-up little toe rag! Who does he think pays his inflated salary? This council is about as transparent as a fossilised cowpat. – Disgusted of many year.

    Reply
  2. Richard Ineson  July 24, 2013 at 7:08 pm

    They really are the most appalling shower. Kitson is unspeakable.

    Here is what Eric Pickles had to say about openness and transparency in 2011.

    Eric Pickles March 2011.

    Transparency and openness must underpin every decision your council makes for you.

    Fifty years ago this month, Margaret Thatcher’s maiden speech championed a Private Members’ Bill which would ultimately make councils open up their meetings to the press and public. As she argued at the time, ‘The public has the right… to know what its elected representatives are doing’. Indeed, local people should be able to hold politicians and public bodies to account over how their council tax is being spent, and decisions made on their behalf.

    We are ushering in a new era of transparency, where every aspect of council business is open to democratic scrutiny and an army of armchair auditors can shine a spotlight on waste and unnecessary cost to help protect frontline services.

    For too long, Labour let councils spend your hard-earned cash without proper local accountability. For too long, Labour took local taxpayers for a ride.

    You wouldn’t spend your money without knowing what you were buying – so why let the Government?

    With greater power for local councils must come greater local accountability. We are committed to increasing transparency across Whitehall and local authorities in order to make data more readily available to you, the citizen, and allow you to hold service providers to account. I recently called on every council in the country to publish all of their spending data over £500 online – and only Labour-run Nottingham are yet to deliver, with their Labour leader arrogantly saying ‘we have much better things to be doing’. What have they got to hide?

    Not only will transparency allow you to see where your money goes and what it delivers, throwing open the council books will also unlock the door to new businesses and encourage greater innovation and entrepreneurship.

    When the new Government is giving unprecedented power and freedom to councils, it’s more important than ever that local residents can keep tabs on what their town hall is up to. We’re bringing the full glare of the public’s eye onto spending. I invite you to scrutinise where your money goes and help us make sure it is spent on the right priorities. It’s time to put the council receipts at your fingertips.

    You can see how your council is spending your money by clicking here.

    Yours truly,

    Eric Pickles
    Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

    Reply
  3. Richard Ineson  July 24, 2013 at 7:23 pm

    This is what I wrote about the proposed move, in July, 2012
    Why I think that the proposal to move the Town Hall and SBC staff to the former building society offices at Eastfield is unwise.
    Local Government is in the middle of a period of great change. Looking back over the past few years, Local Authorities used to be responsible for the provision of water, electricity and gas, public transport, hospitals, slaughterhouses, housing, and doubtless, other services which I have forgotten; these have now all been transferred to the private sector.
    The provision of the remaining local government functions will also be progressively transferred to the private sector, with local authorities only retaining the responsibility for the provision of the services, but, not actually employing the staff and ensuring that these functions are performed satisfactorily.
    Local Authorities will oversee the tendering process for the provision of services by the private sector, and they will organise the supervision/audit of the services, they will also retain the function of raising the finance to pay for these services, via some form of the Council Tax.
    The Councillors will still have the same decision making powers as they have at present.
    What this means is that the number of people employed by local authorities is going to fall dramatically, this fall in numbers will be accelerated as new technology absorbs more and more of the routine administration work presently done by Local Authority staff. New technology will also enable the staff of Local Authorities to work from home.
    All of these factors indicate that the need for office space is diminishing.
    The only way to manage the changing needs of SBC as regards office space is to rent it; this is what private companies have been doing for some years; the changes in the manner in which Local Authorities provide services will happen gradually, and there is a need to be able to adjust office space requirements as the levels of staff employed by Local Authorities fluctuate.
    Looking at the ex-building society offices, this building is a white elephant. And in the present financial climate should be on offer at a bargain price, the owners claim that it cost £10 million to build and they are willing to let it go for £3 million, sounds like a bargain, but I don’t think so.
    If SBC do not buy it, who else is in the market for a rapidly ageing office block built in the middle of nowhere?
    If it is to be bought, it wants to be bought at a knock down price, because in a few years, that is what will happen to it; the price should be nearer £1million – and even then, it needs thinking about, very carefully.
    What needs to be considered is this; what will this building look like in twenty years time, when the roof is leaking and the heating and air conditioning and the windows and the interior all want replacing? This state-of-the-art work place will look very outmoded and shabby in only a few years time. Given the record of SBC as regards maintaining its public buildings, it is unlikely that this building will receive the care and attention which it will need to keep it in good order.
    Looked at from every angle, this proposal is a non-starter. If followed through, it will be a financial millstone round the neck of SBC Council Tax payers for many years to come. I cannot see who will benefit from the move; the electorate will be inconvenienced as regards accessing the Town Hall and disadvantaged financially; the staff, I would think, will not want to be working in a building which is in such an isolated location.
    Let us hope that we have some Councillors who are not going to be dazzled by a few tinted windows and coloured brickwork.
    [Richard Ineson: 08/07/2012]

    Reply
  4. Jane Swales  July 24, 2013 at 9:30 pm

    Look at at this way, Mr Thorne – poor Mr Kitson has had to disappear almost completely up his own fundament to save TF from his own BS. All the fun of the circus!

    Reply
  5. Richard Ineson  July 25, 2013 at 7:37 am

    Incidentally the semi derelict former building society offices are still empty so the ‘knock down’ price’ wasn’t so knock down, it seems. The only sensible thing to do with it, is, knock it down. Meanwhile, I do hope that the owners are paying their Council Tax/Business rates on this building.

    Reply
  6. Geraldine Mitchell  July 25, 2013 at 10:48 am

    It certainly seems that a FOI request which takes 11 months and a prod from on high to deliver, and then which produces a document of a few sentences explaining nothing at all, because all the ‘information’ has been redacted is an insult to the public. It is piss taking of the highest order, and loathe as I am to address Mr Pickles I think he should be informed of how this council is blatantly taking the piss out of his statement on accountability and openess , making Mr Pickles look like a fool to.

    Reply
  7. James Miller  July 25, 2013 at 2:48 pm

    Will you lot stop complaining. The fact that SBC bought a controlling interest in Readers Digress should be a matter for us all to celebrate. This time next year we will all be millionaires. No idea what these clowns are playing at behind the scenes of course but millionaires. Are the taking the pissistent mickey or what?

    Reply
  8. jgh  July 25, 2013 at 3:10 pm

    Page six is my favourite!

    Reply
    • Tim Thorne  July 25, 2013 at 4:35 pm

      The non-redaction of a hyphen two-thirds the way down page four made me chuckle.

      Reply
  9. Mindy Michaels  July 25, 2013 at 7:04 pm

    If you really want to pee off a big organisation, say council,bank, phone company, gas company etc, especially one that you have a longstanding relationship with, then just send in a Access to Information Request under the ICO, recorded delivery along with a tenner. They have to provide you with all the information they hold about you, internal memos, etc; for more info : http://www.ico.org.uk/for_the_public/personal_information

    Reply
  10. Nigel Ward  July 25, 2013 at 7:16 pm

    Whilst fully concurring with those who take the view that this FOIA response is an insult to the wider public (those whom Dave KITSON is employed to serve), it represents precisely the sort of conduct that has brought Scarborough Borough Council Legal & Support Services into such widespread disrepute. It is, of course, a natural concomitant of SBC’s determination to promote internally. If memory serves, Dave KITSON is thirty-three. He is not at fault for lacking the experience and vision that the general public might properly expect from one who, until recently, bore the grandiose title ‘Senior Solicitor’. His elevated status may have gone to his head. But that is an outcome common at SBC, where promotion beyond competence has been a defining characteristic of the Council for some years now. It will change only when the fraternisation between leading Councillors and Executive Officers is brought under control – as it was previously, though temporarily, back in 2005. It is difficult to see how propping up the bar at the local hostelry together, beyond the bounds of sobriety, could be classed as anything other than fraternisation.

    Trebbles all round!

    Reply
  11. Stakesby Legs  August 1, 2013 at 10:01 am

    Your in the middle of a chain redaction, mate.

    Reply
  12. Richard Ineson  August 2, 2013 at 6:52 am

    I sent this email to Hilary,Jim and Tom, a few days ago, will I get a reply?

    I would like to draw your attention to an article published on the Real Whitby Website, entitled ‘SBC Spook Censors Mundane Planning Doc.’ in this article, written by Tim Thorne, he describes his attempts to obtain information about the pre application advice given to SBC when consideration was being given to moving the offices of SBC to the former building society offices at Eastfield.

    Here is a quotation from the article, “On the 17th July 2013, nearly eleven months after I first made the FOI request, SBC Solicitor and Deputy Monitoring Officer, David Kitson, saw fit to release a copy of the pre-application advice. A picture of the redacted document is at the foot of this article. ”

    The redacted article comprises of six pages, one of which is completely blank, and the other five may as well be.

    Here is what Eric Pickles had to say about openness and transparency in 2011.
    Eric Pickles March 2011.
    Transparency and openness must underpin every decision your council makes for you.
    Fifty years ago this month, Margaret Thatcher’s maiden speech championed a Private Members’ Bill which would ultimately make councils open up their meetings to the press and public. As she argued at the time, ‘The public has the right… to know what its elected representatives are doing’. Indeed, local people should be able to hold politicians and public bodies to account over how their council tax is being spent, and decisions made on their behalf.
    We are ushering in a new era of transparency, where every aspect of council business is open to democratic scrutiny and an army of armchair auditors can shine a spotlight on waste and unnecessary cost to help protect frontline services.
    For too long, Labour let councils spend your hard-earned cash without proper local accountability. For too long, Labour took local taxpayers for a ride.
    You wouldn’t spend your money without knowing what you were buying – so why let the Government?
    With greater power for local councils must come greater local accountability. We are committed to increasing transparency across Whitehall and local authorities in order to make data more readily available to you, the citizen, and allow you to hold service providers to account. I recently called on every council in the country to publish all of their spending data over £500 online – and only Labour-run Nottingham are yet to deliver, with their Labour leader arrogantly saying ‘we have much better things to be doing’. What have they got to hide?
    Not only will transparency allow you to see where your money goes and what it delivers, throwing open the council books will also unlock the door to new businesses and encourage greater innovation and entrepreneurship.
    When the new Government is giving unprecedented power and freedom to councils, it’s more important than ever that local residents can keep tabs on what their town hall is up to. We’re bringing the full glare of the public’s eye onto spending. I invite you to scrutinise where your money goes and help us make sure it is spent on the right priorities. It’s time to put the council receipts at your fingertips.
    You can see how your council is spending your money by clicking here.
    Yours truly,
    Eric Pickles
    Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

    In my opinion, our employee, Kitson, has overstepped the mark on this occasion and needs to be reminded of his position as a public servant, his outrageous behaviour in this matter would not be tolerated for one second in any organisation with which I have ever been connected.
    I hope that his actions were undertaken without your knowledge, and trust that you will be taking disciplinary action against Kitson, in order to impress upon him that he is indeed our employee and a public servant. I look forward to hearing what action you intend to take to rectify the offence caused by the insulting behaviour Kitson has exhibited in dealing with this matter and an explanation for his disgraceful lapse in failing to adhere to the professional standards of behaviour which we are entitled to expect from senior staff, employed by SBC.
    I would also expect that Kitson, if he has acted entirely at his own discretion in this matter, will be more closely supervised in future, to prevent a recurrence of this remarkably unprofessional behaviour.

    Yours faithfully,

    Richard Ineson

    Reply
  13. Richard Ineson  August 15, 2013 at 8:10 am

    August 15th, no reply yet. Of course I am still awaiting a reply to a letter I sent to ‘Silent’ Jim Dillon in 2007, so there is still hope.

    Reply
  14. Brian Dodds  September 1, 2013 at 1:07 pm

    Well Richard, I applaud your persistance and your optimism, getting any worthwhile information out of any of our elected or employed officials is next to impossible. We are all fully aware they have plenty to hide, every one of them, I am in the process of composing a letter to Eric Pickles, I honestly can,t see any other way to deal with these petty wannabe dictators we have at the town hall. With your permission I will put a reference to this article in the letter and a link to the Real Whitby site so that he or his staff can access all the information you and Nigel and the other guys on your dedicated team have posted.

    Reply
    • Richard Ineson  September 25, 2013 at 9:20 am

      Brian,

      You have my full permission to quote anything I have written on this, or any other site, to Eric Pickles or anyone else. Good luck.

      p.s. 25th September, still no reply to my email about Kitson’s unprofessional behavour, to ‘Silent’ Jim and Hilary etc. which was sent on the 2nd August 2013.

      Reply
  15. Peter Hofschröer  September 1, 2013 at 1:19 pm

    Eric Pickles?

    Been there, done it, never got an answer.

    I applaud your optimism. :-)

    Reply

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