Over at Margate’s library, aka The Gateway, there is a big blue lever arch file. You can read it if you ask to see the planning appeal files for Arlington. In this big blue file there are 200 or so pages of emails. The emails are correspondence between the agent for the developer, Liz Humphries, and Thanet District Council planning officers. Basically, this file is Liz Humphries’ correspondence file for the Arlington Freshwater planning application. And given it is in chronological order, it makes for very interesting reading. It tells the story of how Thanet District Council did or didn’t negotiate with Freshwater the proposal to construct the UK’s largest seafront megastore.
As an appeal document, this file is now in the public domain. It still feels strange reading it, because so much of the chatty language between Freshwater and TDC and information held within it were clearly not intended to be made public. Although, public servants should always be aware that they are public servants and subject to Freedom of Information requests.
Over the coming days we’ll be discussing the issues that this file raises. One thing that we came away feeling was that TDC is helpful and enabling, if you happen to be a large corporate developer.
Today’s Gazette has published an article about a draft Section 106 agreement that is contained in the file. But unfortunately, the Gazette didn’t get it quite right. We’ve been asking Thanet District Council for sight of a Section 106 agreement from the beginning of this planning application. Afterall, with a development of this size, one would imagine there would be a substantial planning gain for Margate. And further, that details would be discussed before permission was granted to the developer. None was ever forthcoming. But the blue file delivers. On May 6th 2011, therefore just before the application went to Planning Committee on June 15th, the agents for the developers sent over to Thanet District Council a draft S106.
Item 3. of the Section106 Heads of Terms states:
“If one or more resident whose lease gives them control of their windows do not agree to their replacement by the developer, the local planning authority will use CPO powers [or any other power as freeholder of the site?] to enable the Arlington House improvement works to be completed. In this event, the developer will pay for the local planning authority’s reasonable costs in relation to the CPO and any compensation and will undertake the remaining works within six months of the acquisition of the last property [the intention would be to undertake replacement of all the outstanding windows at the same time].
Today’s Gazette article states:
“The draft suggestions were thrown out by Thanet Council planners as unworkable…”
We don’t know where the evidence is that TDC threw this suggestion out. We’ve been through the file from cover to cover and despite it containing communication between the developer and TDC right up until November 2011, there is no documentary evidence of TDC negotiating or refusing Freshwater’s suggestion to CPO the flats of Arlington House residents. The proposal also was not an early day discussion. It appeared on May 6th just before the application went to committee in June. If there is evidence it was thrown out, or even discussed we’d like to see it.
Is this the reason why TDC refused to reveal any details about the content of the Section 106 agreement to date?
We’d also like to know why TDC planners were forwarding the private emails from residents directly to the developers. There are numerous incidents of this in the file and surely raises serious concerns regarding a breach of the Data Protection Act. Made all the more serious that many of the residents concerned are tenants of the developers.