New Homes Auditor Update - Sylvia DunnFB IMG 1444081362894

13th April 2016 By Sylvia Dunn

 

When Lewes District Council announced in June 2015 its New Home’s Project and Sites List for the District, showing the Buckle Car Park as potential development for luxury flats, Seaford residents were up in arms and rightly so. The questions were ‘when did this happen?’, and ‘why were the residents not informed?’.

At the time in question I was standing in a by-election. Without hesitation, Independents for Seaford (ifs) started a petition, which in turn led to a debate at Full Council; this was the start of something big.

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But was this going to be enough? After some intensive research into the background, I came to the conclusion that possibly Lewes District Council had acted unlawfully and had not followed due process. On the 23 November 2015, with help, I compiled a list of 9 issues and ‘Called In The External Auditor’ the issues included:

• keeping this confidential for 3 years,

• the tendering process,

• and no public consultation prior to awarding the contract.

In January 2016, the New Home’s Project was terminated, but the investigation by the Auditor was far from over. I strongly believed that the residents of Seaford had suffered an injustice by the way this was carried out, and that this must never be repeated again.

I am now in a position to be able to share the initial findings of The Auditor, and by bringing it into the public domain, it will guarantee that the District Council remains under the spotlight. On the 5th April I had a meeting with The Auditor, and presented more evidence to support my claims; these are being looked into further.

At present The Auditor has not found that LDC had acted unlawfully, but this is under review until the completion of the investigation in September.

On receiving my complaint, The Auditor did identify a significant risk in respect of: The Governance and Decision making arrangements for entering into and terminating a contract, to determine whether the Council’s own internal processes were followed, to ensure that appropriately informed decisions were made. This is in an audit plan on Page 13, on the Council’s website, as it went to the March Audit and Standards Committee. Can be viewed here: LDC Planning Report 2015-16

All of the issues I have raised will be included in The Auditor’s Audit and Completion Report in September, and will be published on the Council’s website. Furthermore, the Council will be submitting their accounts, which will show an amount in the region of £575,000 that has been spent on the New Home’s Project. These accounts can be viewed between 1st July and 31st July, these will be investigated further to ensure that best value for money was obtained and that no unnecessary expenditure or wasted resources were incurred.

I have asked for a Public Interest Report, this will be decided after the Audit Report in September. As soon as I have news I will let you know.

 

 

IfS Your Voice for Our Town

 

 

New Homes (and Buckle) Cabinet Meeting - Fiona House

17th February 2016 By Fiona House (from notes so forgive any inaccuracies)

 

Well hasn't it been an interesting couple of weeks in the press and on the boards with much speculation, procrastination and scaremongering following the announcement of the Emergency Cabinet meeting?

Sylvia, myself and 2 staunch supporters attended the Cabinet meeting (thanks for the day off boss!).

It was pleasing to see a good turnout in the public gallery from Seaford residents and Councillors.

Report from the Public Gallery

 

Andy Smith commenced the meeting by explaining the Cabinet and the role it plays. Also at the table were members of the working group appointed at the Full Meeting in December.

There were no written questions from Councillors.

There was a question from Mr Peter Calliafas

"Taking into account report 30/16 relating to the New Homes Project, the previous concerns expressed by the local community and the wider issues that now arise from this, what lessons will you, as leader of Lewes District Council, take away from today to ensure that there is not a repeat in the future?"

The response which I sadly did not note in detail was that this will not occur again and indeed other schemes during the same timescale have been completed in full consultation from the off. (Which inspires a little more confidence in moving forward.)

We were told that the 2 key sites, in Seaford, The Buckle and Normansel were no longer financially viable.

Lewes District Council are under downward pressure from National Government to provide housing, and the Planning and Housing Bill is due to receive Royal Assent in the Summer (this is likely to increase pressure. So research into what this Bill will mean locally will need to be looked into.)

Lewes District already has several projects underway which have been developed from the outset in consultation with residents and local town/parish councils etc. Many of these are developing garage sites.

One thing that was clear is that LDC will not be springing pre-commitment (before releasing to public domain is the assumption) on sites going forward .

Also the unusual strength of the covenants on the Buckle and Normansel (?) meant it would have been too costly and risky to have these lifted.

TOLD representative asked how much of the £0.57m cost would be met from the HRA budget. the response (as understood) was that it depends on what is done and that no HRA rules would be breached. Currently Robinson Road is to be a mixed development of affordable and market homes and TOLD would prefer the homes to become part of LDC housing stock.

Cllr. Ron Maskell  (Housing) confirmed consultations and meetings with TOLD will continue going forward (?).

Cllr. Osborne provided a breakdown of costs to date:

Robinson Road £335k

Meeching £109k

Consultations £22k

Valuations £65k

Transport (implications study??) £22k

and a late invoice for Consultations, sketches & designs £53k (Karis getting last drops before the cow dries up?)

The figure quoted (fed from ?) in press of £3m 'lost' in grants should read £1m and there is nothing to say that LDC cannot apply for grants under the same or new schemes for future properly consulted schemes going forward!

Cllr. Gardiner (sp) spoke to assure that there are an entirely new set of fresh eyes on the new commmittee looking at housing (proposals) to ensure projects are within bounds of financial and national constraints.

The vote was carried on the recommendation "To terminate the Conditional Sale Agreement and the Profit Share and Project Management Agreement dated 30th July 2015 which are in place between the Council, Karis Developments Limited and Southern Housing Group Limited in accordance with provisions set out in paragraphs 3.4.3 and 4.3.3 of the Conditional Sale Agreement".

 

Conclusion!

 

While this would appear to be the end of this sordid debacle I understand from speaking to my Ward District Councillor that procedure is Councillors will now be notified of this decision by Cabinet. They (Cllrs. ) then have 3 days to object. (would any one in their right mind do this one wonders?)

I am still a little hazy on whether Cabinet's decision, if not challenged, still has to be 'ratified' at full Council so....

 

Keep the Champagne on ice for now people but it looks like all those who said it couldnt be done and they'd eat their hats better get the salt and pepper out!

 

Just goes to show that ensuring peoples voices are heard, without the shackles of politics from on high, works. We are lucky in Seaford to have passionate people at our backs with the many community groups who helped make this happen.

 

 

IfS Your Voice for Our Town

 

 

SRV Buckle Appeal - Sylvia Dunn

11th January 2016 By Sylvia Dunn

As an Executive Member of IfS and Committee Member of SRV, who have been working together to stop The Buckle development, I thought it would be a good idea to bring you all up to date.

Since the IfS petition last July, depth of feeling from the residents has gone from strength to strength: two campaign marches, protesting outside LDC's consultations and sending in The Auditor has resulted in a delay to the proposed development sites.

This is all good news but we are not out of the woods yet.

To further the campaign it has been decided to engage the services of a Barrister to obtain a Counsel's Opinion or Legal Ruling. This will require funding from the community, and is being organised by SRV.

So let us continue to stand and work together. To contribute to the fund please follow the link to

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IfS Actions speak louder

21st December 2015 By IfS Executive

Just after the election in May 2015 the news started to break in Seaford and the rest of Lewes District about the 49 sites which were to be sold off to fulfil LDC obligation to central Govt. housing requirements. The outrage felt by Seaford residents at the prospect of losing the Buckle car park with its recycling and public toilet amenities, much used in all weathers, and that it has also become the official car park for Bishopstone Station, as signposted by the council following their recently introduced parking restrictions, all led to Independents for Seaford (IfS) starting the ‘Buckle petition’ in the first weeks of June 2015. This was presented, over 2,000 signatures, to LDC full council in July.

Since then many groups within the district have worked, campaigned and marched to highlight the undemocratic process behind the ‘New Homes’ contracts and the unsuitability of selling off community assets that benefit many whether car parking for business & recreation or green spaces.

After the motion in October to ensure like for like amenities would replace the Buckle prior to things moving forward IfS sent a letter on 3rd November to each and every Lewes District councillor requesting an investigation into the conduct of LDC in 10 areas.

We had listened to voices in Seaford who felt a sense of déjà vu from Spring 2014 when STC was investigated. Residents were increasingly concerned at LDC’s recent decisions; the electorate could not be ignored.

One councillor responded, other Councillors went to LDC Officers. A response was received from LDC on their behalf.

IfS then wrote an email to Maria Caulfield MP requesting she followed her predecessor’s precedent and call for an inquiry.

On Wednesday 9th Dec, IfS supporters marched with others from the district from Lewes train station to County Hall.

Sylvia Dunn, IfS Executive Officer, who attended both the march and LDC Full Council meeting says:

A second Protest March was organised on 9th December in Lewes, to coincide with Lewes District's Full Council meeting. Members of IFS were in attendance, and proudly marched along side other community groups. The solidarity of standing together across the district shows the strength of feelings towards the ill thought-out 'New Homes Project' as well as calling on our elected members to listen to its residents. 
Not long into the meeting, it became apparent that some Councillors were starting to listen, and it was agreed and voted on, that the ‘New Homes’ development planning applications be delayed until solutions to residents concerns are found. It was never a done deal, and the fight continues.

 

The Buckle Development - Radio Interview with Mark Enser – Sarah McStravick

18th June 2015 By Sarah McStravick

An appeal from all four of our ifS Candidates. Sarah McStravick, Sylvia Dunn, Fiona House and Debbie Ward.

What is transparency to us, well it is defined in the Cambridge dictionary thus: 'A situation in which business and financial activities are done in an open way without secrets, so that people can trust that they are fair and honest' We have spent much time, either in office at Seaford Town Council, or as campaigners for change, listening to the residents and trying to get things achieved.

With other like minded Councillors Sylvia and Sarah, in response to concerns from Seaford residents, did change the rules, to bring in greater debate and transparency.

We are the largest town in the district, but yet again, it may appear from residents views yesterday ( who attended the meeting in Peacehaven) and the timetable set out for consultation on the 'new district developments', that Seaford is not yet timetabled for consultation, although Peacehaven, Lewes and East Chiltington ( with according to Wikipedia 324 voters in 2004) have already been planned! Further to this we read, with dismay, that it is alleged that Lewes District may have already 'done the deal' in Seaford!

Where is the transparency and democracy in this?

In one of our candidates day job she works to adhere to the UN Convention on Children's Rights, in which the views wishes and feelings of a child must be taken into account in all matters that affect them. Why have the people not been consulted before? Has this been a ' done deal' behind closed doors? It's a matter of trust and honesty.

So what can we do about it now?

We can campaign ( legally)!

We can make our views known, sign the petition. Write /email comment on website to Lewes. Then remember at the next elections, we do live in a democracy after all..,

Independents for Seaford was set up to promote proactive positive people to stand for our town, to challenge and ensure greater transparency and accountability in the town, for the town.

We are fielding 4 candidates in the East Ward of Seaford, two with proven track records in listening to the public and bringing about community action and change in a transparent manner at Seaford Town Council. We are joined by two active campaigners from Seaford, Debbie and Fiona, who have  listened to residents and actively voiced the concerns for Seaford for several years.

We are newly formed but growing with your support we can bring about change in an honest and transparent manner.

We are all in this together, for Seaford!

Seaford makes it's voice heard – Mark Enser

17th June 2015 By Mark Enser

Independents for Seaford (ifS) have been fighting to ensure that Seaford only gets the right sort of developments and gets them in the right places.

Lewes District Council recently announced two sites in Seaford that it has earmarked for development.

One of these is the Buckle car park, a local amenity that provides the only car parking and toilet facilities to the western end of Seaford seafront.

ifS candidate for the East Ward by-election Sarah McStravick started a petition calling for the Buckle to be saved and for Seaford to receive good quality affordable housing for its residents. She says “Seaford is the largest town in Lewes District but for too long we have been ignored. We need a louder voice to serve the interests of Seaford.”

A spokesman for ifS added “The people of Seaford are not opposed to development. Most welcome the thought of affordable housing. At the moment though we have no confidence that this is what Seaford is going to get and we want to be ready to fight any proposals that are not in Seaford’s best interest.”

The online petition (which can be found at ifseaford.org.uk) gained 700 signatures in its first few days.

Fellow candidates Fiona House and Sylvia Dunn along with ifS supporters were out at the weekend with paper copies of the petition getting signatures and raising awareness of the plans. They will be joined by a fourth ifS candidate Debbie Ward at the weekend when they will be taking the campaign to the streets of Seaford.

Buckle Car Park Development Campaign – Fiona House

14th June 2015 By Fiona House

There are currently plans to develop the Buckle Car Park on the seafront, which has been met with considerable local opposition.

Please see the link to the petition at the foot of this article if you feel that this site should be left in it's current form as a community asset.

 

Leave the Buckle Car Park, as a community asset, and not to sell off and build for development. Seaford Town Council recognise this as a community asset and register it as such with Lewes District. Support local residents views on the importance of this area. Lewes District to take note of the residents views and do not sell off this land for further development of the seafront.

 

Sign the Petition to Save the Buckle !!!