Friday, 16 October 2009

Land Disposal will be Cabinet Decision

Over on the Bristol Blogger web-site, in reference to the disposal of council-owned land at Ashton Gate, Cllr Gary Hopkins has stated that "Any decisions on this sort of issue will be taken in open cabinet and this has already been confirmed in writing"

I suspect he may be referring, in part, to an email sent by Cllr Barbara Janke to myself and copied to the rest of the cabinet members (including Cllr Hopkins of course) which included the following statement of mine, and agreed with by Cllr Janke;

" if, as a result of the entirely separate planning process regarding the proposal for a food store at Ashton Gate, there arises the need to consider the future of the council-owned land included in that development, that the decision on this land will be taken at Cabinet level and will not be delegated down to officer level"

The email above followed on from a discussion that Cllr Janke and myself had following an event hosted by the Bristol Civic Society on Thursday 8th October.

That conversation itself followed on from the full council meeting of 15th September, where Cllr Simon Cook, in response to a question from a member of the public, provided a written statement that;

"BCFC have been in discussion with BCC officers around the possible acquisition of the freehold of land owned by BCC. These discussions are on-going and a report will be taken to Cabinet when negotiations are complete and the planning applications determined. This is likely to be in the next few months."

In that same meeting, in response to my own question;
"Has a valuation been placed upon this land by Bristol City Council in the event of it being sold for redevelopment?"

Cllr Cook provided the following written response;
"No value has been placed on this land at present as this is dependent upon any successful planning application for a change of use"

So, to summarise, BCFC have been in negotiations with BCC about acquiring the freehold of the council-owned land, but the value of the land is dependent upon any successful planning application. In addition, the decision regarding any potential land disposal will not be delegated down to officer level, but will be taken in open cabinet, sometime in the next few months but after planning permission has been determined.

If anybody thinks that I have misrepresented the statements of Cllrs Janke, Cook and Hopkins, please feel free to let me know by adding a comment below. I am also emailing the councillors concerned so that they can correct any errors on my part.

Friday, 2 October 2009

More Questions than Answers

Questions put forward for Wednesday's (1st October) Cabinet Meeting of Bristol City Council:

Question for the Executive Member with responsibility for land disposals (Cllr Simon Cook)

In response to my question to full council on the 15th September detailed below;

"Q4 Does Bristol City Council intend to consult directly with local residents regarding the future use of this land prior to the 5th November when planning application 09/03208/P is scheduled to be determined?" You replied;

"A4 It is not intended to hold a public consultation on the future of this land. There has been considerable discussion and consultation over the development as a whole where individuals have had many opportunities to express their views."

My question for cabinet is as follows;

Does the executive member not accept that until the publication of the responses to public questions for the full council meeting of the 15th September, there had been no official announcement or acknowledgement by the City Council that it was, in fact, the owner of a significant portion of the land which planning application 09/03208/P refers to, and does he not further accept that individuals may have responded differently to consultations or offered alternative viewpoints in discussions regarding the proposed development if they were aware that a vital and necessary portion of the land was and is in public ownership as opposed to being in the private ownership of the developers themselves?

If the executive member believes that there has been an official announcement or acknowledgement by the City Council of its ownership of this land, could he detail the methods used to make this information public knowledge?

The answer I received at the cabinet meeting was;

Planning applications are frequently made for sites where the applicant for planning consent is not the owner. The ownership of the site is not a determining factor in relation to the planning process, and the fact that an applicant does not own the site would not be something that would prevent the Local Planning Authority from making a decision about the application. Equally if representations were made about the applicant's lack of ownership to the LPA, this would not be something that it would have to take into account in deciding whether or not to grant consent. The applicant is responsible for obtaining the necessary legal interests to let it implement the consent.

As a consequence of this there was no requirement or need for the Council to make any form of announcement or disclosure of its ownership of part of the existing car park - although the ownership is a matter of public record at the Land Registry where full details of the Council's ownership can be found by searching the public register.

So in effect, in response to my questions about whether the Council has adequately consulted with local residents on the future of council owned land at Ashton Gate the answer is;

1) We don't need to,

2) and anyway, the details of public ownership 'were on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet, stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying 'Beware of the Leopard" ' and if you, as a private individual, are not prepared to take the time to perform a Land Registry search for every single planning application on the off-chance that public land might be involved, I fail to see why you should expect us, elected public representatives of the local authority responsible for protecting the interests of local residents, to make that easier for you by actually telling you when public land is involved.

3) as to whether Cllr Cook does or does not accept that people might have responded differently to the "many opportunities to express their views" if they were aware of the public ownership of the land - we still don't know because he chose not to answer that question.