Friday, 29 March 2013

The Royal Sands Development on the Pleasurama Site in Ramsgate and the Freedom of Information Act, an update of sorts.



After a series of communications between me the council’s chief executive and the council’s senior legal officer, I have achieved a situation where a bit more of the documentation is in the public domain. This is what they sent me:

This one is called by the council “Pleasurama Unredacted Information”   


And this one “Pleasurama Redacted Information”   




My request to the council was for them to send me a list of all the documents the council hold on The Royal Sands Development on the Pleasurama Site in Ramsgate, that they wouldn’t send me and for them to send me everything they hold that they were now prepared to release under foi legislation.

What I actually got was the pdf files, links above and the following email.

“Ref No: 48746 / 2328573

Dear Mr. Child

Thank you for your information request received on 25 February 2013 where you requested information held by the Council concerning the former Pleasurama site in Ramsgate.

I confirm that the Council holds information relevant to your request. However it declines to provide all of that information to you for the following reasons:

1.      Section 21 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 authorises the Council to withhold information that is available to the requestor by other means. For example, the Planning application files relating to the Pleasurama site are public documents that may be inspected at the Gateway in Margate during normal Council office opening hours. However, I have nevertheless included a partial transcript of the Council meeting of 5 December 2002 together with some other information relating to a presentation given by the developer to the Council, all of which I recovered from the Planning file. In addition, all the open reports since 2003 concerning the Pleasurama site are available on the Council's web site via the Modern Gov Committee System.

2.       Section 41 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 - Some information has         either been redacted from the information now disclosed or withheld in its       entirety as the Council remains under an enforceable duty of confidence in       respect of it. This is an absolute exemption, meaning that the Council is not    required to consider the public interest in deciding whether or not to withhold  the information.

3        Section 42 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 - A sub-paragraph in an  exempt report that I have concluded can now enter the public domain has been redacted due to legal  professional privilege. However, Section 42 is a qualified exemption subject to a public interest test. In this regard, it is my decision that the public interest lies in witholding this information. This is because the courts have recognised that there is a substantial public interest in the maintenance of legal professional privilege which I consider outweights any competing public interest in disclosure.

4.      Finally, I have not enclosed copies of the Development Agreement as these        have already been disclosed to you.

Subject to these exceptions, the information that the Council is able to disclose is attached to this e-mail in electronic form.

If you are dissatisfied with the handling of your request, you have the right to ask for an internal review. Internal review requests should be submitted within two months of the date of receipt of the response to your original letter and should be addressed to: Information Request Assessor, Thanet District Council, P O Box 9 Cecil Street, Margate Kent CT9 1XZ, or send an email to foi@thanet.gov.uk.

Please remember to quote the reference number above in any future communications.

If you are not content with the outcome of the internal review, you have the right to apply directly to the Information Commissioner for a decision. The Information Commissioner can be contacted at: Information Commissioner’s Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire, SK9 5AF

Yours sincerely,

Corporate & Regulatory Services Manager”



This leaves me with. Yes. A bit more information, but also leaves me with the problem I had before, which is that I have quite a lot of documentary information about this development that I haven’t published because I assume it is information that the council hold on their restricted list and that publishing it would contravene their rules.

An example of this is the pdf file the council call “Pleasurama Redacted Information” now anyone looking at this for the first time would assume that the bits the council won’t let you read, are the bits they have blacked out and these are the only bits missing, however I have the original document and it may surprise readers to hear that apart from the blacked out bits about half the pages are also missing.

This raises some interesting questions like. Did the council leave these pages out deliberately? Do the council hold a lot of information that not only do they not wish to release, but they don’t even want to tell members of the public they hold?     


This type of communication with the council is bizarre enough anyway, because they get 20 working days to fulfil foi requests, which in practice means a month. If you ask them what is going on before the month is up, if they reply at all it is to tell you that they still have more time. If you ask them after the month is up, at best you get a reply saying they are sorry the documents are late….. I have the whole sorry correspondence and will forbear publishing it.    



I guess most people will realise that communicating with someone where it takes a month to get any sort of useful reply is a bit of a dispiriting business.

I will endeavour to add a bit to this post, when I have had a chance to have a proper look at the documents they have sent me.       

Starting with the first document (unredacted) the presentation on the Pleasurama development begins on page 8 and key to this is it being a Whitbread development, so looking at documents the council may or may not hold that I do, I have redacted this one myself.   



Another key aspect of this presentation is that it is funded by a Swiss bank SFP, see page 10, it says that SFP Ventures Partners limited is part of SFP Swiss Bank.

SFP was a Swiss private investment firm which when it gained a banking licence in 2003 became SBP Swiss private Bank.

I have redacted another document I hold which says something rather different.




The relevant bit being:

“-          Where officers deem it necessary to exclude the press and public due to the content of a report, the report that recommends the exclusion of the press and public will, in future, state what the public interest test is, to explain the rational for the exclusion, and what is meant by commercially sensitive, where applicable.
-          The exclusion report will also state that in the case where the public interest test is finely balanced, that the presumption will be in favour of publishing.
-                    The annual review of contract standing orders and the tight controls over tender opening, which already exist.”

So would think it likely I may get a bit more of an explanation about both what they have withheld and why.
I have now got down to page 87 where the council’s protection is discussed, the key elements there being the £5.6m bond, the retention of the freehold and that the council can repossess the site if the developer doesn’t conform to the timescale






36 comments:

  1. Michael I applaud your perseverance in this I must admit not having the tenacity any longer

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    1. To be honest Don I haven’t pursued this with the tenacity that perhaps I should have done, it is right on my doorstep.

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  2. Michael thanks for publishing documents. I have noredacted copies and cannot understand why the Council wishes some information to remain secret

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    1. Ian I guess the biggest surprise for me was the council didn’t provide me with the list of undisclosed documents that I asked for, I can understand them being reluctant to disclose documents, but I think the failure to disclose which documents the hold is totally unacceptable.

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    2. Michael, The first answer to any FOI is to state whether the information is held or not. May I suggest that if you know precisely which parts have been suppressed that you request those parts specifically by page no ig known. At the least you should be informed that they are held and why they are not being disclosed.

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  3. Michael is to be applauded. it must feel like wading through pink blancmange.

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    1. So far it’s been part pink and part blue Barry

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  4. I cannot help but feel rather mystified by this and wonder if, perhaps, too much is being read into this apparent shielding of papers. Even from the world of blogging, it is readily apparent that there is not much love lost between the councillors of Labour and Conservatives parties in Thanet yet, for there to be a deliberate cover up, there would have to be massive collusion between the two sides. Is that likely.

    This Pleasurama saga started when Labour was in office, continued during the Conservative years and we are now back with Labour in power. Surely if there were scullduggery involving members of one party or the other, we would be seeing the kind of triumphant trumpeting that greets some unfortunate being breathalysed. We are not, so does that mean that there is some deep seated plot in which both main parties were implicated or is there nothing.

    Likewise, Ian Driver, who is not reknown for keeping quiet, has been a councillor for two years and a committee chairman for much of that time. Surely, in such capacity he could have seen on demand any council papers or files he wanted. Yet, somehow, he never bothered to seek out the Pleasurama related ones. Hardly seems likely does it.

    There is no disputing this situation is a mess, but suggestions of underhand or foul play are a bit hard to swallow. Crass incompetence is much more likely the order of the day.

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    1. Tom I think there can be no doubt that SFP claimed to be part of a Swiss Bank and claimed to be in partnership with Whitbread, I think both political groups were taken in by this.

      Hindsight is a wonderful thing and it’s easy to say someone should have checked and it is my guess if someone had then the project would have been awarded to the other company, they were after all building another development in Ramsgate at the time.

      From the documents published it is obvious that the council found out that Whitbread had either pulled out, or most likely never been seriously involved, at a fairly early stage, and I guess with hindsight the council should have reviewed the situation.

      For me though the real problem, the one that isn’t easily excused by hindsight is the 2009 decision (second doc) where councillors decided to go against officer advice to pull out.

      I have had an unredacted copy of the redacted document since just after the decision in 2009, and it was a single page of this (now in the public domain) that Ian Driver published on his blog, that appears to have caused the reprimand from the chief executive.

      But I guess a key question here is what does an independent chair of scrutiny do if they obtain a document that seems to show the council acted wrongly, if the officers and councillors don’t want to know?

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    2. Tom you are forgetting that although it could be thought that the Members run the Council, they do not. Several members have said to me that they rely on the the blog sites and the local paper to find out what is going on. You are quite right that Councillors can ask for documents, but if they do not know of their existence, they can hardly be expected to know what to ask for.

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    3. Fair enough then, Paul, so we are to assume that the likes of Clive, Iris, Mike, Simon, Roger, Chris, to name but some, all colluded together to conceal some dastardly plot. Even Michael's suggestion that it was all down to the Conservative adsministration's flawed 2009 review begs the question, if it were would not Labour be crowing it from the rafters.

      Instead of looking for plots, maybe we the public should concentrate on demanding action to sort things out.

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    4. Tom, The Pleasurama debacle has reached the point now where it should be properly investigated and not by a cabal of Councillors and officers with political interests, but by someone totally independent. I know that would cost us, but the result might be a salutary lesson for those in the future to make sure things are done properly. It would certainly be better for TDC to be in possession of all the facts before this matter also ends up before the Courts.

      Leave aside the potential and actual losses associated with the pleasurama site, TDC have just paid £80,000,00 of the £125,000.00 legal costs for the animal exporters, plus probably another £100,000 in TDC's own legal costs in defending the indefensible that we have not been told about. That still leaves the outstanding £1.4M damages claim and two more sets of legal costs to be paid all over again. Michelle Fenner claimed responsibility for the decision which she stated was taken after receiving a legal opinion. My understanding is that there was no legal opinion and that it was an officer decision and worryingly there is no record of that decision or the reasons for it.

      Perhaps that would explain why Clive and Iris Michelle have gone very quiet all of a sudden. The decision by TDC to suspend the animal exports has the potential to cost us up to £2.5M. It was for DEFRA to take that decision not TDC. TDC's unrecorded involvement is going to cost us dear.

      In answer to your question, Clive Hart and Bob Bayford are of course daggers drawn. But this is a situation where both sides have a deep seated hatred and distrust of each other which unfortunately has been re-inforced with the recent conviction of Ezekiel. Iris is trying to destroy the conservatives and Bob has been wrong footed by the conviction. Add to this the fact that the officers take decisions advice that both sides get from the officers and you have a recipe for disaster.

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    5. I would not argue with that summary, Paul, my objections have been to the suggestions of some devious plot or that one political party is more culpable than the other. It is crass incompetence across the board and, perhaps, an independent inquiry is the way forward.

      Perhaps localism and removing the district layer would be a solution. After all, a bunch of very ordinary folk giving themselves grand titles, plus associated allowances, and having a cabinet has always struck me as a bit of a posers licence for ego trips at such a lowly tier of governance.

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    6. Tom I agree that in the main it probably is crass incompetence by all involved. We can hope that the recent conviction is not the tip of an iceberg. You are talking Unitary, which I fully support for numerous reasons. My understanding however is that all the District Council's involved would need to agree and I can't see our councillors agreeing to either reducing their numbers or a reduction in allowances for the twin hatters. There probably needs to be a public referendum.

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  5. Tom I think "Suggestions of foul play" are an invention of yours. What is clear is that warning flags were there from the outset. The first proposed builder was not the company with experience since 73 but when founded in 2000 and dissolved 2007. In fact if the original contract 52 months to completion gad been stuck to then, on the history as now known, the builder would have dissolved part way into the build.

    The initial address to TDC cited Whitbread/Brewers Fayre interest. Two months later Whitbread's representative clarified that they were not in negotiations re a Ramsgate development/

    Michael has pretty much covered the draft letters from the bank issue.

    So pretty much your conclusion of crass incompetence seems to be on the money.

    Driver, I suspect, has watched whilst Michael took over 50% flak for pursuing his concerns, on to the change to widespead support that the continuing fiasco has delivered. Then Driver has, almost by way of stolen valour, climbed on the popular wave that Michael suffered to achieve.

    Tony Ovenden has spent years as a stalwart of local museum services. Now he too has the opportunist Driver stealing his valour.

    I scan read Michael's documents in seven minutes. But I doubt Mr Driver would care to do the donkey work of reading in detail ?

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    1. Scan Reader. the foul play suggestion is certainly part of the Driver voice in this, aided and abetted by the Red Hall duo, who have found a new champion, though I agree with you completely that he is not slow to steal and then outrageously embellish others research.

      I am happy to go with the crass incompetence line to which I would add some pretty incredible naivety on the part of councillors and lack of questioning research by the officers.

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    2. In the recent conviction of Giovanni Di Stefano one of the offences was about a draft letter represented to be that of a bank (or banque). I imagine the offence was using a false instrument.

      Money Laundering Law and consequent guidelines are just a yardstick to measure lack of diligence.

      But false instrument, if such applies, would open up channels towards the misfeasance direction ? It may be that is sufficient grounds to ask police to look ?

      The builder initially proposed may have been an offshoot of a Suffolk company established 1973. But in fact it was created in 2000 less than 2 years before the developers made their Dec 2002 presentation. And the building company dissolved in 2007.

      It is difficult to see, therefore, assurances they would complete the build on the 52 month to completion schedule. Or that they could have created up to 80 jobs by taking local labour. As it seems their continued existence may have been reliant on acquiring the Pleasurama contract ?

      If money laundering is involved in a matter then cash flow wouldn't be a problem. And a development appears.

      Amusingly the property price collapse from 2007 played hell with small scale money laundering via gifted deposits. Remortgaging on increased equity having previously been the system by which the deposit gifter was repaid clean money for fictitious "Work" done by various roofing, building and scaffolding companies.

      I am guessing that last paragraph represents an area in which TDC Housing Benefits should be more active. But it might also be an area in which hefty gents would take exception to pressures for proper inquiry. But perhaps Cllr Driver is ready to impress, with his potential PCC aspirations, by being first into the fray ? Yeah ...... thought not.









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    3. Jolly good. Let's ignore the issue in question and concentrate instead on Ian Driver jumps on to bandwagons. Who cares as long as, in the end, something positive comes out of this. Sometimes I wonder who is more petty; the local politicians or the local commentators. Maybe we get what we deserve.

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    4. Tim If jumping on a bandwagon equals the chair of scrutiny being asked in his official capacity to call in and to scrutinise an issue that has gone badly wrong, then I am all for bandwagons.

      With The Royal Sands I asked the current Labour administration to include a flood risk assessment in the latest round of the developer negotiating concessions, this would have merely brought the development up to current EA safety standards.

      My thinking here was that it would make any genuine desire to proceed with the development run much more smoothly, particularly in terms of the developer getting finance.

      When they didn’t do this I asked Cllr Diver in his capacity of chair of scrutiny to scrutinise the decision, this he appears to have done.

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    5. Michael, Could ask Cllr Driver to scrutinise the decision to suspend animal exports. That misguided decision is likely to cost almost as much as the Pleasurama site is worth.

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    6. Michael. I'm with you. Divide and rule appears to be the order of the day. Ignore the real subject and let's bicker instead about whether Cllr Driver is as bouncy as Zebedee or who was the better investigator. I can understand why ECR gave up.

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    7. 7.48 with Pleasurama, which is the only decision I have ever asked to be called in, I believe there was a call in period of only a few days, after which you couldn’t get it called in. I don’t really know the rules but I think the call in period would have expired, that is assuming that the temporary suspension of live animal exports was the result of a council decision i.e. the decision was the result of a council vote.

      I remember that the temporary ban was the result of the incident where the sheep were killed, but I am not sure who it was that made the decision to impose it, perhaps if you can fill me in on the detail I could make enquiries.

      The correspondence relating to my telephoning the council and asking how to get the Pleasurama decision called in was fairly surreal, see below;

      -----Original Message-----
      From: Mark ***
      Sent: Mon, 30 Jul 2012 15:23
      Subject: Royal Sands Decision
      Michael
      I understand that you have been in contact with the Council's Democratic Services section in relation to call in procedures following Cabinet.

      I also understand that you have left your number in relation to a potential call from me in relation to this issue, but I think it more appropriate to email.

      Clearly I cannot provide specific advice in relation to call in arrangements as this is not my area of expertise, though I understand the arrangements for this have been explained by the officer to whom you spoke.

      On the specifics of this issue, despite our long conversation in relation to flood risks, I am not going to instigate a call in for this item on this basis. I know your arguments in relation to this issue, as you set them out eloquently to me the other day, but even with this in mind I do not think it appropriate for me to seek a call in in relation to my own report.

      Mark
      Mark my assumption is that it would be highly inappropriate for you to ask for a call in on an issue where you were the advising officer.

      The substance of my phone call to democratic services was that I had been trying to email all the members of scrutiny tying to obtain assistance in initiating a call in when I got to Jodie Hibbert whose email address wasn’t published on the council website, so I phoned democratic services.

      I was told that the officer supporting the scrutiny group was on leave until after the call in date, that the officer who I spoke to didn’t know the criteria for and didn’t know how a member of the public initiated a call in and that an officer who did know would call me back.

      My guess is that no one knows the rules under the localism act and so it landed on your desk.

      Best regards Michael

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  6. Sherlock Holmes once said "when you eliminate everything else whats left is the truth" (well something like that) what if it isnt political rather businessmen who understand how incompetant TDC is. Politics it doesnt seem to be. For instance TDC have accepted £1M under dubious circumstances yet the Councillors seem not to understand Money Laundering Regulations having recieved no training so how does the Councillor with oversight for Finance know is TDC has it wrong. I downloaded the Money Laundering Policy for a large Northern Council then compared it with TDC's. It was as different as chalk to cheese. guess which one was more robust!!

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    1. Barry, first of all, in case it escaped your notice, Sherlock Holmes was not a real person. You might as well quote from DCI Barnaby.

      As to money laundering policy, that is why the council employs officers, specialist in their departments, to guide them in the same way that MPs have civil servants.

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    2. are you dismissing my experience and training? difficult when you dont know me. further I quoted the words from the book whether a real character or not the words are what they are. I was in fact agreeing with the comments that incompetance is true however incompetance can be manipulated if you understand the system. you assume officers are trained in areas of expertise but isnt that an assumption unless you have some experience of being an officer. I have a copy of the money laundering policy from TDC and also one from another council. One is more robust that the other that is a simple statement of fact not guesswork.

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    3. One could equally argue, Barry, that you know nothing of my experience which, I would hazard a guess, probably exceeds yours in the investigative field. That said we are undoubtably both right in a way. You say that the money laundering policy of TDC is less robust than that of another council and I said that the council employs officers for their expert guidance. I did not mention the competence of those officers, but one would like to think they are selected for their expertise in a particular field or, at least, their ability to research and find out.

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    4. Tom when you see their responses over ML regs with both michael and I it has a consistant naive manner about it. Michael may post the replies one day I wouldn't be able to as I do not have the technical know how. What I can say is their policy says " know the counterparty" now I would like to know how they know the people behind SFP Venture Partners ltd (ltd doesnt have the same legal status as a company registered in England so why did they add this in?) also there is a letter in their files from 2008 that says the £1M is in a bank account in Geneva which shows it was given to TDC via the UK registered company and not from money earned by the UK company. This shows the UK company is a conduit for money transfers.

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    5. BTW I wouldnt disparage your investigative skills as I have no idea whether you have investigated the Pleasurama saga. Maybe if you share what you have discovered I would be in a better position to comment!!

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    6. Barry, I gave up investigating things a while ago now and just take an interest as a tax paying member of the public. Michael, as you so rightly say, has published a lot of information on this issue and the standing, or lack of such, of the proposed developing company. My main point would concern the way forward and whether we should now just keep raking over old coals or whether we should be demanding a total rethink.

      That said, it does seem elsewhere, that our new Labour administration seem to have placed us at risk of losing millions because of their high handed action over Ramsgate port closure to animal exports and, as a result, TDC just may not be in a position to take on another fight.

      Stand by for a big rise in council tax next year.

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    7. any council that doesnt understand the past is in danger of making the mistakes all over again. or something like that

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    8. I see in the Gazette regarding Animal Exports that our new Labour administration leader Clive Hart claims to have been in an "absolutely impossible situation" and that they "took legal advice and were assured that we had a good case". That's not what is reported elsewhere. Who is telling the truth I wonder and who was responsible for creating the situation in the first place. Was it a cynical political ploy to create alarm which went wrong and s now going to cost us TDC £2M? Could it be that Clive and Iris were forced into acting by Ian Driver in order that they could hold onto power?

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    9. I would say your last comment is a very real possibility knowing how Clive, in particularly, covetted that 'leader' title. His ego may yet cost him, and unfortunately us, dear.

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    10. Seems Driver has once again cost Thanet dear with his bluster and bullshit. Lets hope this chancer is consigned to the history books of TDC in the very near future.

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    11. Hamilton, explain. Driver might have done the blustering but it was Fenner and Hart that did the illegal shutting down. Do try and keep your vitriol under control

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  7. How interesting that some of the redacted stuff from Whitbread's is a TDC ruse as a well known gentleman of Ramsgate raised this up with the Auditor for TDC and got nowhere? Apparently TDC is attempting to mislead you over certain FOI refusals - I would be taking this up with the ICO directly if I was you?

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    1. The rules are I first have to request an internal review, in practice another month, and then I can take it up with the ico.

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