Council secrecy

I refer to the article ‘Row over redevelopment of football ground rumbles on’.

Chichester District Council call themselves ‘open and accountable’ yet the estimates behind the decision to build 80 houses and flats on the old Portfield Football ground have not been reviewed by elected councillors since 2003.

Since then it is the council officers who have taken the scheme forward.

The financial background to the case could not be taken into consideration by the public during the period when the council applied to itself for planning permission.

Without the release of these figures, the public cannot know if the project really represents ‘best value’ for the area and the city.

We cannot judge for ourselves the balance between the huge environmental damage that would be caused and the purported benefits of the scheme.

This is certainly not being open and accountable with the taxpayers of the district.

Chichester District Council has now been ordered by both the Information Commissioner and the Information Tribunal to release the financial estimates relating to the scheme, but they are still refusing to do so.

The Westhampnett Road and Church Road Residents’ Association was told by local councillors an additional £10,000 has been earmarked by CDC to support yet another appeal, this time to a higher Information Tribunal (we understand that CDC has already spent £13,000 on fighting this case).

A lot of public money is being used to prevent what has been judged to be public information about the proposed sale of public land, being made available to the ...public.

The estimates date from September 2007, before the recession.

The Information Tribunal examined CDC’s argument that disclosure would have a negative effect on the amount they might receive for the land and ‘considered it likely... developers would rely heavily on their own professional advisors... regardless of the Council’s expectations’ (para 42 of the Decision Notice of the First Tier Tribunal, Information Rights, dated March 16, 2011, available on their website)’.

‘The Tribunal questioned whether the council’s reluctance to make disclosure in this case was a product of an old orthodoxy that valuations will never, in any circumstances, be made public’ (Para 40).

Just what do they have to hide?

If this misconceived project goes forward then the people and businesses of the district can look forward to even greater traffic congestion when entering Chichester from the east.

The River Lavant will be moved closer to contaminated land and culverted under a large new roundabout at the end of Church Road – just 80 metres from the Sainsbury’s roundabout. The tree screen will be felled, a huge environmental cost.

The new roundabout would be added to the seven others within 500 metres or so of the Sainsbury’s roundabout.

Is someone building up a roundabout collection, or trying to create a groundbreaking piece of landscape art?

The real reason behind the roundabout may be more prosaic.

The CDC Executive Board went into closed session in February to decide on a change of use from park and ride at the adjacent Barnfield site, and decided to grant ground leases for it.

The proposed new roundabout could offer access from Barnfield to Westhampnett Road, although anyone using this route in the future might find rather a lot of stationary vehicles in their way.

Could the Barnfield development be the main reason why CDC wants another roundabout on one of the city’s busiest roads?

One of the problems with a lack of democratic accountability and an abundance of secrecy is that they give rise to all kinds of suspicions.

Much more seriously, they undermine local democracy.

Lynne and Ian Friel

Westhampnett Road