I have now been told officially by the council that work on the construction of the development won’t start until 2011.
This means once again I will be lobbying the councillors for temporary leisure and parking use of the site next summer.
I have had the same excuse that I had last year, that was the that the developer will need the site next year to lay pipework and groundworks, well it didn’t happen this year and even if it does next year it would seem unlikely that they will need the whole of the site for the whole of the summer.
The pipework also runs along much of Harbour Parade and I wouldn’t like to think that there will be no public access to Harbour Parade for the whole of the summer.
Finding information about the Royal Sands Development during the last month is a bit of a long story, it is as much a story about trying to extract information from Thanet District Council, as it is a story about the development’s arduous progress.
The most important part of my freedom of information requests and official complaint to the council relate to the weight limits on the eastcliff here in Ramsgate.
Put quite simply if I am wrong about this then I have made a fool of myself, but if I am right, as I fear I am, then lives are being put at risk now.
Not at some future date when the development is built but now, every time a coach full of people drives down the Marina Esplanade incline road and every time a maintenance or emergency vehicle drives onto the cliff top footpath above the site.
Progress so far is not good, my first request for a document has been answered with an explanation of a delay while the legal position is resolved, this seems to me to be quite reasonable and I am happy with its progress, see http://www.michaelsbookshop.com/foi/id3.htm
My second request has passed the date by which it should have been answered, I am uncertain what action I should take in this instance, I know what to do if I am refused the documents that I ask for, or told they don’t exist, but what to do when there is no reply eludes me, see http://www.michaelsbookshop.com/foi/id5.htm
My third request has resulted in a request for pictures from me, this is quite reasonable as I offered them within the text of the request. There is however a rather bizarre twist to these pictures as they are of something that doesn’t exist, namely the cliff façade foundations.
As the officer concerned is obviously giving some time and thought to this request, I have considerable hopes that some documents will come of it, after all one wouldn’t expect after a months delay and the return request for photographs to end in nothing, see http://www.michaelsbookshop.com/foi/id4.htm
Finally we come to my complaint, I have had a response and I have to say that I find aspects of it unsatisfactory, unfortunately this will probably mean raising my complaint to local government ombudsman level.
I am reluctant to do this, as I know it puts pressure on our already hard pressed council, but at the moment I see no alternative.
One area that I am most concerned about here is that the developer closed part of the public highway, without notification and it would seem from the council’s response without gaining permission from the council to do so.
Why this concerns me so much is that it would appear that the developer seems to feel that they are above the law, the information I have is that acting in the way they did is illegal.
Obviously the hoardings that they erected illegally are not permanent and as such not crucially important, what worries me though is that with this being such a large and significant development, with so many questionable aspects that starting in this way may set a trend.
One problem for me here is that on the one hand there is no planning agreement because this is a council owned property. You have to appreciate that if the site was owned by anyone else, one would be mandatory and it would have to be in the public domain. While on the other hand having opted out of this important document because it is a council owned site, the council then say that they have no obligation to provide basic information about the development.
This really is a case of they can’t have it both ways, by that I mean that if they are going to treat the development as though the developer owns the site and not the council then there should be a development agreement.
Obviously the answer that they won’t actually start to build anything until 2011 leaves me petty much speechless.
Last year when the five year period that the planning permission was valid for expired, I was told that as the access road had been started within the period the planning permission stood in perpetuity, I was concerned that the developers main interest was to keep the site undeveloped, while retaining the option to use it for as long as it pleased them.
Essentially having fixed a price for the site with the council, they could then wait for the value of the site to rise to a point where the development was viable, despite the problems associated with building between an unsupported chalk cliff with stability problems and a history of collapses and on the foreshore, in a way that was against environment agency’s strong recommendations.
In many respects we would have been protected from this by the performance bond, which formed part of the original development agreement and that the council agreed to relinquish.
Here is the link to the council’s response to my complaint http://www.michaelsbookshop.com/foi/id6.htm