Cllr Banwait provided some insightful comment in Full Council on 23rd November 2016:
“When elected members look at making decisions, the first thing they think about, and, you know – we all do it, let’s be honest….when you’re faced with an issue, you discuss it, you debate it, you ask for options from officers, our external partners out there …and the next thing you think about is the impact on the local elections. And often the local elections are only a few months away. We are politicians – we have to think about elections”
The construction of the car park in Mackworth was an example of a decision which had the re-election of Cllr Paul Pegg in May 2016 very much in mind.
On October 28 2015 Cllr Pegg was in the Daily Telegraph explaining how he was going to solve the parking problem in his ward by spending £800,000 of s106 money from the Miller Homes development in neighbouring Amber Valley.
Typically when new housing developments are approved there are agreements with the local authority that require the developer to provide funds to address consequential effects e.g. new road layouts, community facilities etc – this is called “s106 money”. Miller Homes had a s106 agreement with Amber Valley District Council which included £780,000, to be given to Derby City Council for specific purposes in the Mackworth area. This would be paid when a specified number of houses had been built. The pertinent condition sought to minimise the use of the Mackworth Estate as a “rat run” i.e. to minimise unnecessary through traffic. In a Freedom of Information request Amber Valley DC confirmed that a car park was not a legitimate use of this money.
Prior to Pegg’s Telegraph appearance in the DT he had been told by a Council Planning Officer on 21 September 2015:
“With regards to the highways contribution, the s106 is clear that some of the money (of the £780,000) must be spent on improving the Station Road/Radbourne Lane junction as well as the footpath work and rat-running measures in Mackworth estate. These were all issues raised when the application was being decided. I am concerned that the district centre scheme does not meet the definition of alleviating rat-running. I feel that, as the items in the s106 are specific, had it been the intention to spend the money on the parade or shops, this would have been clearly stated in the agreement.”
In an earlier email the Officer had highlighted that any monies were not due to be paid for at least 2 years (i.e.2017) and
“…it is my opinion that this would require the re-negotiation of the legal agreement with the developer which would put receiving any money at risk….”
Pegg ignored this advice and suggested that all of the money would be spent on the car park, even though he knew it was not legal, all of the £780,000 would not be available for this project, and that no money would be paid until 2017.
In order for the car park to be of electioneering value it needed to have been started by early March 2016. The 12 week planning application consultation started in November 2015, however by 4th February 2016 the Regeneration Manager wrote to Pegg telling him of complications in the planning process, and that they would be recommending that it be “rejected” at the Planning Committee on 25th February 2016. This was clearly not in line with Pegg’s plan, he retorted:
“This is not an option as far as I’m concerned.
The way that planning and everyone else as (sic) dragged this out is a disgrace.
We stick to the plans and work starts on the 7th March.
We have gone over the 12 week period so therefore it is deemed consent”
Pegg’s bullying tactic didn’t work as the Deputy Chief Executive responded a few hours later and made it clear
“I’m sorry but we cannot go ahead without planning permission”
And suggested that the Director of Planning pay a visit to the area to look at options that might be acceptable. Pegg was unimpressed, and somewhat disrespectfully, replied:
“I’m afraid that unless you know the site and area fully, discussing an alternative is a waste of time….People tend to forget that I live in Mackworth and I see the problems daily not just for an hour when officers decide to pay a visit”
On the 9th February the Head of Planning wrote to Pegg, trying to suggest that an alternative be considered that would be acceptable and which would not require planning permission. He went on to say:
“There would be lots of political fallout / adverse publicity by following the current route……Notwithstanding the planning merits, I am particularly concerned about the latter and political mischief that could ensue”
Nothing was changed and the Planning Officer position remained the same and the recommendation to the Planning Committee was to “Reject”. The Committee had 10 members ( 6 Labour ; 4 non-Labour) – the officer position was overturned and planning permission granted.
Pegg got his way, and the work commenced, in time for him to be able to use it in his election leaflets, despite the fact that the funding for it had not yet been received, and still hasn’t in December 2016. Also legal agreements have still not been amended to recognise this as a valid use of the money ( this was confirmed in a Freedom of Information request)
Given that the money has been spent, and no funds have been transferred from Amber Valley DC, it is their view that this, logically, could not have been funded by s106 money ( you can only spend the money after it has been received). This is contrary to the agreed funding arrangements of the 2016/17 Derby City Council Capital Plan – in effect, the Council has spent its own money (£550,000) on a project that it could only afford on the basis that it was externally funded.
Car parking in Mackworth is possibly a worthy cause, that is not the point. There are many good initiatives in the City. It was clear that Pegg had prematurely, personally committed to this project, even though the advice he had been given identified significant unresolved issues – including the fundamental fact that it was not an acceptable use of the money. Overturning the planning officer recommendation, and spending funds that the Council was not expecting to receive, for several years, just so it could be completed prior to the May 2016 vote appeared to be blatant electioneering with public money.
Categories: Derby City Council