Friday 21st February 2020,
North Yorks Enquirer

How to Waste £500,000

Regular readers will remember the failed attempts by Scarborough Borough Council to move the Town Hall out to Dunslow Road at Eastfield in 2012. Planning for the move commenced in 2010 when the Skipton Building Society announced that Prospect House, the former headquarters of the Scarborough Building Society, would be up for sale at a later date, following the movement of all operations at Scarborough to the Skipton Head Office.

You’ll also remember reading the ‘facts and figures’ given out by Officers of Scarborough Borough Council in support of the move. Many people had asked questions about the reliability of those figures, the bizarre omission of other figures and the inclusion of figures that had nothing to do with the Town Hall move.

I asked, via an FOI request, about the inclusion of a figure of £1.7million for an IT upgrade which was purported to be necessary if Scarborough Borough Council were to stay at St Nicholas Street. It was clear from the reply that the £1.7million figure was a work of fiction and the actual amount was £775k. After further examination it was clear that none of the equipment being bought was intended to upgrade the facilities at St Nicholas Street. All that equipment could and would have been moved to Dunslow Road, if plans for the move of the Town Hall had come to fruition. Another Scarborough Borough Council lie exposed?

On the 17th July, the Cabinet recommended to full Council that staff should remain at Scarborough Town Hall. On the 20th July, during the full Council meeting, elected members voted to reject the proposed move and decided that staff should remain at Scarborough Town Hall.

The Leader of the Council, Councillor Tom Fox, said the decision for not moving ahead with the Town Hall project was:

“not just about pounds, shillings and pence”

Fox also stated that:

“he had been strongly swayed by how the public saw the building and how it was the heart of the council which would have been lost if there had been a move to Prospect House”

Hilariously, a few months after the Town Hall move to Eastfield collapsed, a report written by E C Harris and commissioned by Scarborough Borough Council stated that Office Space could be shrunk by 71%.

When asked, through an FOI, who initiated plans to move the Town Hall to Eastfield, the Officers of Scarborough Borough Council stated in no uncertain terms that is was the brainchild of the Cabinet.

Scarborough Borough Councillors who were part of the Cabinet during the Town Hall Move fiasco were as follows:

Cllr Thomas W FOX
Cllr Jane M KENYON
Cllr William CHATT
Cllr Brian SIMPSON
Cllr Derek J BASTIMAN
Cllr Andrew BACKHOUSE
Cllr Penny MARSDEN
Cllr Mike COCKERILL
Cllr David JEFFELS

Three Officers of Scarborough Borough Council were also listed as being part of the Cabinet during the same period. It is noted that none of these Officers have lost their jobs in the recent redundancy programme.

Lisa DIXON – Monitoring Officer
David KITSON – Deputy Monitoring Officer
Hilary JONES – Strategic Director

Behind the scenes there was much going wrong with the proposed plans to move the Town Hall. The peasants were revolting and the costs were escalating. One item of future expenditure was woefully underestimated. Within a number of years a new roof for the new building would be needed at a cost of at least £1million. Factoring these and other costs into the equation and also removing bizarrely added costs made the option for staying at St Nicholas St much more favourable.

None of the figures imparted as part of the Consultation Process were ever amended to reflect reality. Scarborough Borough Council were quite happy to continue to misinform the public with regard to the costs of the Town Hall Move.

One bit of gossip I heard was that Scarborough Borough Council would never get planning permission to move the civic function to Dunslow Road. This is what prompted the sudden U-Turn at the 17th July 2012 Cabinet meeting, which was later ratified at the 20th July 2012 full Council meeting.

It is known that Scarborough Borough Council engaged East Riding of Yorkshire Council in 2012 regarding the move of civic functions to Dunslow Road. FOI requests were made to East Riding of Yorkshire Council in 2012 and 2013 regarding sight of the pre-application advice sought and given. East Riding of Yorkshire Council rejected both requests due to client confidentiality.

On 24th August 2012, I also FOI’d Scarborough Borough Council for the same pre-application advice. On 28th August 2012 I got the standard boilerplate response. It set my expectations to receive the information I had requested within the allowed timeframe of 20 days for their response. I sent SBC the first reminder on 18th October 2012. The second reminder and a request for an Internal Review as to why they had not answered the FOI request on the 14th December 2012, and a third reminder on 11th January 2013.

To date, Scarborough Borough Council have made no meaningful reply to this FOI request. Obviously they don’t wish to divulge any information which makes them look incompetent. If information did make it into the public domain that after spending £500,000 or more of public money on planning the Town Hall move to Dunslow Road, that they completely forgot about planning permission until the last moment, they would be a laughing stock. Perhaps the in-house planning advice differed so much from East Riding of Yorkshire Council’s planning advice that it was never considered until the last moment that the move of the civic function to Dunslow Road just wasn’t feasible.

Perhaps when the reality of the planning situation hit home, Scarborough Borough Council decided to weave a web of deceit and concocted the story about ‘listening to the people’ to mask their gross incompetence.

The truth is that they had been more strongly swayed by not revealing their gross incompetence in wasting upwards of £500,000 of public money.

Article first posted to Real Whitby on February 3 2013.

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