My KCC Election Manifesto & Video

Friday, 4 March 2016

Dreamland Operator Selection: A Bite on the Arse?

Not only was the Heritage Lottery Fund concerned about the appointment of Sands Heritage Ltd as the Dreamland operator but, according to rumours  I have heard,  so were others. From what I can gather these concerns were focused on Thanet Council’s management of the operator selection process. I understand that formal complaints may have been made to Thanet Council about its handling of the park operator procurement process and that there may even have been the threat of legal action related to the tendering process.  These rumours certainly appear to have substance.

In May 2015, Larissa Reed of Thanet Council produced a  report headed “Restricted – commercially sensitive information”  in which she described how Thanet Council managed the Dreamland Operator procurement process. It explains that 2 efforts were made by Thanet Council to secure an operator. The first effort in,  June 2014, resulted in only one application being submitted by Sands Heritage. On advice, it was  “determined that the council should re-advertise the offer”.

The second procurement effort  was launched in September 2014. This time there were 6 returned  applications including Sands Heritage and the Dreamland Trust. But here’s where things, even by my standards, get a little odd. Because the report  says that whilst all 6 applicants, including Sands Heritage,   provided tender submissions “following legal advice from Trowers and Hamlins we agreed to consider the previous tender submission from Sands Heritage Limited”. So if my understanding is correct this means that on the basis of legal advice Thanet Council decided to reject Sands Heritage’s tender submission for the second bidding round  of September 2014 and only consider its original submission from the first round of tendering in June 2014. Why was this?

Clearly, Thanet Council and its lawyers must have had some extremely serious concerns about the probity of the second Sands Heritage   tender submission. Serious enough to have  decided that it would have  been inappropriate to consider its second tender document. My educated guess, and I stress the word guess, is that these concerns were the result of the alleged complaints and possible threats of legal action made to the Thanet Council which I have already mentioned. What the substances of these complaints and threats of legal action were I do not know. However in the interest of open and transparent Government I intend to find out and to make my findings public.

4 weeks ago I submitted a Freedom of Information Request to Thanet Council asking for a copy of the Trowers and Hamlins legal advice.  As I expected I was given the bums rush. Writing to me yesterday, Tim Howes, TDCs Director of Corporate Governance said  “I can confirm that Thanet District Council holds this information” but “the Council consider that the advice from the Council’s solicitors to the Council is   exempt under section 42 of the Freedom of Information Act as the Council could claim legal professional privilege in respect of that information.” Fair do’s but the legal and professional privilege doesn’t mean the document remains under lock and key in the TDC offices for ever.

I have a right, which I will be exercising,  to appeal against Mr Howes decision through an internal review at TDC which takes 4 weeks. No matter how valid and lawful my arguments are for release of this document from the clutches of the secrecy loving Thanet Council, I am certain that, because of the sensitivity of Dreamland project and the fact that the reputations of so many council bosses and politicians   depend upon it not going pear-shaped, my appeal will not be successful. That will leave a final appeal to the Information Commissioner, which will take several months. Having read up on how to appeal against an  FOI rejection , I believe that in this case there are some very powerful reasons why the Trowers and  Hamlins report should be made public- so powerful I want to play a little game.

So the game is this. I will draft my letter requesting an internal review of Mr Howes decision
and publish that letter on this blogsite in a few day’s time. I will then ask for feedback and suggestions from you  as to how I can improve the letter and any technical and legal suggestions anyone may have to make it stronger. On the basis of feedback I will then produce a revised version of the letter which will be published on this website and sent to Mr Howes. I will the conduct a survey as to your view on whether Mr Howes will release the Trowers and  Hamlins report or not, which would be an excellent way of testing whether or not my view of Thanet Council as a secretive North Korean style organisation is a reasonable one.

In the run up to me  publishing the draft letter here are links to 2 guidance documents produced by the Information Commissioner which are relevant to my appeal and well worth reading



 Considering that Thanet Council tried, but miserably failed, to water down the Freedom of Information Act, (see my other posting about FOI) it would be most appropriate for an FOI collaboratively drafted by local residents to bite the out of touch corporate opponents of the Act on their municipal arse!!!

PS to cut the FOI process short I am happy to receive any information readers may have  about the Dreamland operator selection process. The usual confidentiality undertakings apply.  

2 comments:

  1. Isn't it about time we all realised that TDC isn't qualified to run a whelk stall? The council's involvement in everything commercial needs to be stopped with immediate effect and it needs to focus on its statutory duties. A case in point would be the ludicrous obsession with identifying a partner to help them pursue a compulsory purchase of the site of the former airfield. This project is massive and is way beyond the council's pay grade. The council should be sitting back and allowing the bidders to sort it out amongst themselves. If Riveroak, or anyone else. wants to buy the site they needs to make contact with the owners and offer enough money. That's it. The council shouldn't be involved at all.

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  2. Ecstatic to see that the Labour Group has followed the Green Party's lead in welcoming Stone Hill Park proposals for the site of the former airport at Manston. A sensible allocation of housing blended with sutainable industry and space for leisure and recreation. It has the potential to be a blueprint for green development. It seems unlikely but let's hope the Tories see sense soon and commit to working constructively with the legal owners of the site. After two years of pointless and futile wrangling there is, at last, a real sense of progress. Politicians of all colours will need to get off the fence and make their minds up because the planning application will be hitting TDC's doormat in a few short weeks.

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