The Great SBC Land Grab [Pt.1]
Guest Author Norman Murphy – Scarborough Borough Council Alderman and former Councillor – shares his views on the latest Labour-led scheme to give away the family silver.
Although the current Labour leadership of Scarborough Council has only been in power since May 2019, I think it would be fair to say that their management of the Borough’s affairs, right from the beginning of their reign to the present day, has been truly appalling.
Leader Siddons reign of terror has seen him, and his loony left pals, break every pre-election promise they ever made.
Where, for example, is the consultation we were told would be offered on all major issues? Nowhere to be seen.
We were assured that democratic reforms would be instituted and that a Labour Council would be a listening Council. Instead all we have seen is hypocrisy, self-interest and still the vexatious list persists. So much for listening.
While Siddons’ claim that his administration would be “open and transparent” has turned out to be nothing but a pack of lies.
“Secrecy and deceit”’ are how many view the way this administration conducts business.
So it will, I am sure, comes as little surprise to learn that Siddons latest scam ‘The Great Land Grab’ is being undertaken without the slightest regard for the concerns and objections of residents or ratepayers.
The Great Land Grab scheme, for those of you who have come late to the party, will see 8 prime pieces of Council land, of course by Council land I mean ratepayers’ land, given away to a new organisation/quango, set up by Siddons and his Officers, which they refer to as the Joint Venture Partnership (JVP).
The JVP quango, cloaked under the harmless sounding title of ‘BETTER HOMES BETTER LIVES’, will then develop the sites; building houses which Siddons claims will be rented out under the philanthropic banner of ‘Affordable/Social Housing’.
It all sounds very nice, I am sure you will all agree, and so kind of Siddons and the caring Council who selflessly want to help all the poor homeless people in the Borough.
And, of course, if helping those who are in need was Siddons primary motive for creating the JVP, then I think we might all applaud his motives.
However, I suspect that the creation of the JVP has more to do with helping the soon-to-retire leadership of the Council, rather than the Borough’s poor homeless. Indeed, I suspect that the only homes which might be built are villas in Tuscany. However, I digress.
The JVP, which is the organisation created by SBC Officers to drive ‘The Great Land Grab’ forward, consists of four consultancy firms. As might be imagined consultants cost a lot of money and these four firms have already been allocated, £1.35 million pounds of ratepayers money just to get the scheme off the ground.
Director Richard (the Brighton Bin Man) Bradley said the JVP:
“would be ‘cost neutral’ to the council and that it would be able to get back the approximate £800,000 costs of setting up the joint venture”.
The Bin Man, however, very conveniently did not mention that the £800,000 committed to the scheme was, in fact, £848,000 and that the consultants have already had half million. (£1.35 million, in total)
On top of the £1.35 million they are also going to be allocated £100k per annum to administer the scheme.
The £100k is, of course, only an indicative amount as no firm limit can be set until the scheme goes live.
I don’t think it takes much imagination to see that what this actually means is that the ratepayers can be stung for any amount the consultants think they can get away with.
Anyway, the creation of the JVP allows a largely unelected board of, who knows who, probably Siddons mates, to get their greedy little mitts on some of the most valuable development sites in the Borough.
Of course, in the absence of “openness and transparency”, we are not allowed to know how much the 8 sites are worth, but two Councillors who I have spoken to reliably inform me that the total value of the sites is somewhere in the region of £38 million. Please, leader Siddons, feel free to give us the correct figure if I have been ill-informed.
Now don’t get carried away and think that we are going to get £38 million for these sites, oh no, that is not the plan at all. What we are actually going to get for these irreplaceable parcels of very valuable land is NOTHING – ZERO – or to put it more simply SWEET FA.
The land will not be sold to the JVP but be given to them on the understanding that they will build the Council some social housing.
The whole ‘BETTER HOMES BETTER LIVES’ scheme and the creation of the JVP is, as I see it, just a scam – another ratepayer rip-off.
What the ‘BETTER HOMES BETTER LIVES’ JVP project looks likes to me, is a cunning plan devised by our Officers and backed by our ‘champagne socialist’ leader; created with the sole purpose of making, some people, not of course the ratepayers, very rich.
It is, I agree, an audacious plan and one that, on the face of it, should be doomed to failure. But we are living in exceptional times and my feeling is that, if the current leadership remains in place, it has every chance of succeeding.
As we know, the present Scarborough Borough Council (SBC), over which currently Siddons and his Labour Group rule, will cease to have any executive powers when the new Unitary Authority is elected in just ten months’ time; in May 2022.
The Siddons administration has never taken any notice of public opinion and, as they are going to be done away with anyway, it seems highly unlikely that they will be bothered, at this late stage, if residents, ratepayers, or indeed voters, think the ‘BETTER HOMES BETTER LIVES’ JVP is a con.
Consequently, they can force through this obvious scam without any fear of voter or ratepayer anger damaging them.
My guess is that the Council leadership now view their remaining months in power as their opportunity to slash and burn the Borough’s assets; to initiate a scorched earth policy, leaving not a penny in the coffers.
Old scores will be settled. Those who they deem to have been troublemakers will be punished. -he harbour users and sea-front traders will have the hated Harbours Master Plan imposed on them.
The ridiculous £22 million pound ARGOS ratepayer-funded regeneration scheme will be forced through, regardless of residents objections.
However, none of these acts of spite and revenge will be, I predict, as damaging, and have consequences so long-lasting, as ‘The Great Land Grab’.
So what does our future look like under the unrestricted control of Siddons and his loony left crew?
Well, my guess is it won’t be pretty.
Scarborough’s Old Town will be particularly hard hit. Should the ARGOS development go ahead, my guess is that Old Town residents can look forward to a bleak future.
Traffic congestion in the Bottom End has always been a problem for residents and the imposition of 200+ students, each almost certainly with a car, will add significantly to the parking problems.
Also the 25% increase in dwellings proposed by Siddons for the Old Town will further increase congestion.
Moreover, additional people living in the Old Town will inevitably put increased pressure on schools, medical services and social amenities.
If Siddons has his way, it looks to me, like existing Old Town residents are going to get shafted – big style.
However, the shafting Old Town residents are going to get is as nothing compared to what he will do to sea-front traders and our fishing community. They, I suspect, will come in for some particularly brutal treatment.
The Harbours Master Plan, which will almost certainly cripple our local fishing industry, will be implemented no matter what the so-called consultation recommends.
The views of sea-front traders and those who make their livelihoods from sea-front businesses will be totally ignored.
These groups have openly spoken out against Siddons Harbours Master Plan and will therefore, I predict, be spitefully punished.
The sea-front traders and the harbour users will, it looks to me, be “Royally” shafted.
Then there is the thorny issue of Council debt and the use of external funding. As we know, under the Siddons plan, £22 million is to be borrowed to build Coventry University a block of flats. This borrowing requirement, I am reliably informed, because of increased labour costs, increased building material costs and inflation has now risen to nearer £30 million, but no matter; it is all being paid for by the ratepayers, so who cares?
Then, of course, there is the £20-plus million Siddons has available from the governments Towns Fund. This has got to be allocated to schemes in the very near future or we may lose it. Consequently, as has already been seen with the anti-terrorist planters on Scarborough high street and vinyl wrapping of empty shops, the opportunity for Siddons to create jobs for the boys is virtually unlimited – well, unlimited, that is, until our money runs out.
However, the pièce de résistance must be ‘The Great Land Grab’. If Siddons and our Officers pull this off, then we will see large swatehs of prime public land given away to their mates. Publicly-owned sites worth at least £38 million will be gifted away to property developers.
So were there any objections to ‘The Great Land Grab’? Well, yes. There were indeed:
“more than 700 comments, the vast majority objections, were received during a public consultation on the sites”.
So how did leader Siddons respond to these objections:
“When I read [he says] comments on social media from members of the public, I think that there is generally, with all due respect, a lack of understanding in some quarters about how this works”.
In other words, we know best and we are going to do whatever we want. And if you don’t like it you can F right off.
No, Stevo. The members of the public fully understand, alright, what you are up to; they know that ‘The Great Land Grab’ is a con and that they are going to be ripped off. That’s why so many of them objected.
Plus, of course, we may add to this list of Council assets being given away. The Futurist site and the three prime development sites in Scarborough’s North Bay.
The family silver looks to me to be heading for the pawn shop.
So, as I see it, should Siddons survive these remaining 10 months in power, and achieve all his stated aims, he will leave behind a Borough hugely in debt, with its land and property assets transferred to organisations which many people believe are controlled by crooks and charlatans. And traditional industries, such as fishing and tourism, devastated.
Not a prospect, I would suggest, that most residents and ratepayers would welcome.
So, the question might fairly be asked, can any of the above be stopped before it is too late?
Well the answer, as I see it, is “possibly” – but it will take some doing and it won’t be easy. Nonetheless, there are escape routes so let me explain in Part 2.
To be continued…