Monday, 14 March 2011

A tale of two councils ... The Kelliers

Last week’s Newquay edition of the Cornish Guardian carried a story about an ongoing disagreement between my local Parish Council and Cornwall Council. I would like to take this opportunity to say a little more about the dispute.

In March 2009, in advance of the creation of the new unitary authority, Restormel Borough Council agreed to transfer an area of rough ground known as The Kelliers to St Enoder Parish Council for the sum of £1. Parish councillors were keen to improve the Kelliers as a nature area for local residents.

That decision was subject to the approval of the Implementation Executive (IE) which was setting up the new council. This was very much a rubber-stamping exercise and all previous requests to the IE for land transfers had been granted. We were even informed by council officers that the consent for the Kelliers had been given.

Over the next six months, I made numerous requests on behalf of the Parish Council for the land transfer to be actioned and at no point was the Parish Council informed that there were any problems with the land sale.

In December 2009, a solicitor representing Cornwall Council contacted the Parish Council to arrange the sale and by February had informed them that he would “soon have a draft contract for approval.” St Enoder Parish Council even instructed solicitors to act its behalf.

But then suddenly, Cornwall Council stopped the land transfer claiming that, twelve months previously, the decision had not been endorsed by the IE. They did not even have the courtesy to inform the Parish Council of their change of heart and it only came to light when I chased up the lack of progress.

At this point I contacted the Chief Executive and leading councillors and was informed that the Council had a “moral obligation to settle along the lines of the original proposal.”

After much digging, I also discovered that, in March 2009, officers had made a conscious decision not to follow through with certain land transfers because they were busy, thereby circumventing the whole democratic process.

In September last year, the issue was referred to a meeting of Cornwall Council’s Cabinet and the Cabinet decided to offer to transfer the land to the Parish Council but not in the manner previously agreed.

Instead of selling the freehold, the Cabinet proposed a 99-year lease with a break clause. It was made clear that the Parish Council would be responsible for all maintenance and all costs, but to my astonishment the break clause would allow Cornwall Council to take back all or part of the land at any time – giving the Parish no security of tenure whatsoever.

So much for the “moral obligation” to respect the original deal agreed with Restormel Borough Council.

In recent months, I have continued to attempt to persuade representatives of Cornwall Council to honour the original agreement, but I have not been successful. However, they did advise that they would “consult” with the Parish Council before they made any decision to take the land back.

So much for localism and supposedly wishing to work with Parish and Town Councils!

It was therefore not particularly surprising when members of St Enoder Parish Council accused Cornwall Council of treating them with contempt and voted unanimously not to proceed with the option of a 99-year lease containing such an unfair break clause.

I remain extrelmely unhappy with the way that Cornwall Council has treated my local Parish Council and I am still pondering what else I can do on this matter.

1 comment:

Stephen Richardson said...

How about the doctrine of promissory estoppel? If the Parish Council has acted to its detriment, on the basis of a promise made, then it may have a case in equity for specific performance of a contract.