Friday, 16 March 2007

Protesters "false claims and sabotage tactics" have cost council taxpayers almost a quarter of a million pounds

Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council has today revealed that a small group of protestors acting against the proposed £88million housing and leisure development at Coatham Links in Redcar has cost the council taxpayers of the Borough approximately quarter of a million pounds in additional legal fees.

The financial information – made available through a routine Freedom of Information request – has shown that the programme of activity by protestors to delay the consideration of the scheme has increased legal costs by £243,941 over a four-year period.

These activities include a recent bid to register public rights of way across the proposed development area, a bid to delay the consideration of the development due to health and safety reasons and legal action to register the land as a village green. All these have been rejected when considered by the appropriate independent bodies.

Councillor Glyn Nightingale, Cabinet Member for Corporate Resources, said: “As a Council we take very seriously our commitment to being an open and honest organisation; we welcome any opportunity to provide information on how public money is being spent.

“Any proposal for a large development will cost a Council money – this is inevitable in the first stages of negotiation, consultation and planning. It is only sensible that we meet these costs. Firstly, it ensures we provide fair and open consultation on any proposals we receive; and, secondly, it encourages important new opportunities that investors and developers can bring to the area in potential new facilities, housing and businesses.

“However, as these figures highlight, we are increasingly concerned about the costs incurred through a small number of protestors’ false claims and sabotage techniques designed to delay the consideration of the current proposals for the Coatham Links. Legitimate protest is part of the democratic process.

“We have procedures in place to allow for this, but the tactics of a small number of protestors have achieved nothing except the waste of Council money on legal action, wasted officer time spent in responding to the protestors' alarmist and exaggerated claims – worse still is the number of deeply unpleasant personal attacks on Council staff.”

“We are committed to making Redcar and Cleveland a prosperous place for our residents to live, work and invest. We are also determined this proposal will receive a fair and open consideration at the forthcoming meeting of the planning committee. We hope protestors do not use this open, democratic process to create a platform for their own personal motives.”

The financial information shows in addition to legal costs in response to protestor activities, the Council has also spent approximately £44,640 per year (£178,560 in total over four years) in negotiation, consultation and standard legal costs. This is substantially less than the average cost to a local authority for a proposed development of this size.

The planning application, submitted by Persimmon Homes in August last year, will be considered at a special Planning Committee meeting, open to the public next month.

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