Last week I went through the process of getting the decision on the Royal Sands Development agreement called in.
The decision as published on the council’s website is:
“That the revised development agreement summarised in Annex 1 to the report is agreed, with delegated authority granted to the Corporate and Regulatory Services Manager to sign the final agreement, once all advance conditions are met, in consultation with the Cabinet Member for Commercial Services.
Councillor Bayford spoke under Council Procedure Rule 24.1, seeking assurances from officers in relation to the proposed development agreement.
On the proposal of Councillor Poole, seconded by Councillor Hart, it was RESOLVED:
THAT the revised development agreement summarised in Annex 1 to the report is agreed, with delegated authority granted to the Corporate and Regulatory Services Manager to sign the final agreement, once all advance conditions are met, in consultation with the Cabinet Member for Commercial Services.”
Truth here is I really don’t understand if the OSP (overview and scrutiny panel) actually do anything, I know they can call a decision in, whether once they have done so they then have the power, or the inclination to change that decision is something I don’t understand at all.
The run around I encountered trying to get the decision called in suggests that they are treated by officers as a nuisance that has to be negotiated, rather than some properly functioning part of the council.
Anyway here is the email I have just sent off to the councillor and officers concerned, after being instructed by Thanet District Council’s democratic services, that this is how a member of the public communicates with the OSP.
“Ian, Mike, Harvey.
I have been told by democratic services to contact the three of you regarding the Royal Sands call in.
Two issues here, the first being the way in which scrutiny and call in is available to a member of the public.
Could you please confirm my assumptions here, as the machinations of local government remain something of a mystery to me?
I am assuming the whole business of scrutiny costs something and that it is local taxpayers that foot the bill for this.
I am also assuming that the voting constituents of Thanet should have some point of input and instigation via officers, in the mater of scrutiny.
I am also assuming that having instigated the scrutiny of an issue a constituent should then have access to an officer who will ensure that their points are put impartially to all of the members of the scrutiny panel.
In terms of instigating the call in of The Royal Sands decision initially I tried the democratic services, customer services and emailing the chief executive route as a means of getting the decision called in. This failed and I got no email response, apart from one, from the officer who wrote the report, essentially saying that he could hardly call his own report in.
I tried the method of contacting members of scrutiny, until I reached one where the council’s website had omitted their contact details, fortunately I already had Ian’s personal email address, and contacting him via this resulted in the decision being called in.
On Friday I phoned democratic services and asked what the next stage was, mostly how I could contact an officer who would put forward my points to the scrutiny panel and what they came up with was emailing the three of you.
Now I am fairly certain that Harvey and Mike are the officers who have supported the aspects of the decision that I wish to be scrutinised and that Ian, while responsive, is likely to be unpopular with some scrutiny members, who may take a less than balanced view of anything he proposes.
I however feel that as member of the Thanet electorate, council taxpayer, business ratepayer and a resident of the ward the development is situated in, I should get my reasons for requesting a call in, put impartially, by an impartial officer, to all members of the panel.
All that said can, you please tell me, what are the possible outcomes from calling the decision in? Can you also provide me with contact details for the appropriate council office?
On to second and main issue, the Royal Sands call in, which is the information I want put to all the members of the scrutiny panel, preferably by an officer who impartial.
The flood risk issue first.
Up to now officer take on this one appears to be that I am some sort of crank, who has taken issue with the development of the site and wishes to see another fifteen years of dereliction.
This is not the case, my objective here is to ensure that the development, is if built, both safe and viable in terms of its funding. My assumption is that the construction of a new residential development on an EA designated high risk flood zone, without any site specific flood risk assessment is both foolhardy from the public safety point of view and will to a lesser or greater degree blight the development, effecting the development’s financial viability.
There are various aspects of the sites vulnerability to flood and storm damage.
The site suffered considerable damage during the 1897 storm when various structures on the site were demolished by wave action.
It also suffered damage in the 1953 storm, most notably a 12 ton crane that had been working on the beach was swept over the sea defence and into the site by wave action.
In the 1978 storm the front of the Pleasurama arcade was stove in by the sea (the main Pleasurama building had an internal floor height higher that the frontage and after 1978 the lower front part was only used a pool area because of the water damage to the arcade machines).
Also the adjacent harbour wall suffered considerable damage, there was also damage to the sea defences from Ramsgate to Dumpton.
This information is well documented in the local paper archives.
2 Environment Agency recommendations.
On 8th February the Environment Agency sent the council and developer a letter strongly recommending a site specific flood risk assessment and emergency flood escapes, see http://michaelsbookshop.com/ea/
When I put discussed this with officers I was told that these concerns were invalid (officers implied that as the EA officer was young and female, her position as the only qualified technical specialist to examine the plans should be ignored), so I asked Laura Sandys to ask the southeast’s senior environment agency officers for their official position in writing.
This is what she sent me:
“The Pleasurama development gained planning consent prior to the publication of the latest government guidance on development and flood risk, PPS25. When we were consulted in 2003 our floodplain maps did not show the site to be at risk and the design, at that stage, had clear evacuation routes to the top of the cliff. But, having received revised plans for the development last year, we highlighted our concern over flood risk and recommended that a site-specific flood risk assessment be undertaken. This would inform appropriate mitigation measures such as recommended floor levels, flood resilient design and an evacuation plan to ensure that the development is made as safe as possible.”
3 Design Changes.
When the site originally gained planning consent the intention was that the development be supported on driven piles, into the chalk bedrock.
The 2005 cliff condition report http://thanetonline.com/cliff/id2.htm stated that this would be too dangerous because the vibration could trigger a cliff collapse.
The design was then changed to piles bored into the chalk bedrock (this construction method has been insisted on and adopted for the two other recent developments on Marina Esplanade, although the are both set behind modern well constructed and maintained sea defences).
At some later time this was changed to shallow foundations only dug down as far as the top of the sand, which once formed the beach where the site is.
Note; The site was formed by sea wave action prior to the construction of Ramsgate harbour, so the chalk bedrock is at about the level of low tide. The construction of the harbour shielded the site from the scouring action of the sea and caused a build up of sand forming a beach approximately where the site is. In 1860 chalk spoil from the railway tunnel, put on top of the sand, was used to raise the site to its present level. The inclined side of this pile of lose sand and chalk was then paved with stone slabs forming a sea defence. The existing Ramsgate sands are the result of wartime defences, prior to 1915 the sand was all below the normal high tide level. Since the removal of the wartime defences, which happened when the sand was removed for the construction of Port Ramsgate, the level of sand above the high tide line in front of the development has been variable.
4 Sea Defence.
My understanding is that the sea defence there is still the original 1860 inclined slab defence and all of the promenade structures behind and above this are founded on the pile of lose chalk and sand.
Mike has confirmed this in writing and informed me that the council, who own this sea defence, hold no construction plans or maintenance record relating to it.
In simple terms, the foundations of the development rest on sand, it isn’t screwed down to the bedrock like the other new developments down there and the only thing preventing the sand from being washed out by the sea, is a 150 year old sea wall with no maintenance record and more sand.
The only other sea defence, that I know, of that was built by the same railway company, as part of the 1860 railway expansion, was the one between Reculver and Thanet, this failed in 1953. About 10 square miles of land and about three miles of railway track were lost in one night.
I should like to add that I think it highly inappropriate that this sea defence and flood risk assessment issue is discussed in closed session, as it relates to public safety.
Next the questions relating to the asset disposal.
Here the secrecy situation is the reverse, I am concerned that the proper asset disposal process didn’t occur at the time of issuing the 199 year leases, see http://michaelsbookshop.com/pda/id4.htm and further isn’t occurring at this stage of freehold transfer.
Harvey has assured me that this isn’t the case, but wasn’t able to provide me with a full explanation because of disclosure legislation. I am assuming that this information will be available to a closed session of the scrutiny panel.”
Best regards Michael.
If you read or skimmed through that lot you will see I am as much trying to get to grips with the ins and outs of scrutiny as to make much sense of The Royal Sands.
The picture at the top is my unfinished first attempt at having a go at oil painting. I have been buying tubes of oil paint at the boot fairs I have been to.
Ian Driver has called the decision in.
There is an OSP extraordinary meeting on 16th August and although there are no details saying what it is about on the council’s website yet, my guess it is The Royal Sands call in.
1. To ensure that there has been a recent flood risk assessment of the development site;
2. To ensure that the disposal of the site was in compliance with agreed Council processes;
3. To ensure that the Council secured a reasonable price for the sale of the development site."
After some difficulty negotiating the council’s website, revealed, this link should take you to the decisions page http://tdc-mg-dmz.thanet.gov.uk/mgDelegatedDecisions.aspx?XXR=0&&DR=25%2f07%2f2011-08%2f08%2f2012&ACT=Find&RP=0&K=0&V=0&DM=0&HD=0&DS=2&Next=true&META=mgdelegateddecisions&
It doesn’t seem that many decisions get called in.
The call in notice for The Royal Sands says:
This decision has been called in by:Councillor Ian Driver who writes Reasons for call-in:
I may add to this one.