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Friday, 22 August 2014

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Watchdog backs Allerdale council land deal plan

An Allerdale council plan to sell off areas of council land to developers has been backed by the authority’s watchdog committee.

Nicky Cockburn photo
Nicky Cockburn

The council’s executive wants to set up a 20-year partnership with a Luxembourg pension fund to stimulate investment and create jobs.

It plans to sell redundant council land for development, starting with The Green outside Allerdale House, land north of Derwent Park and a site at Ashfield Road South/Ellerbeck Lane, all in Workington.

But Allerdale Independent Group leader Bill Finlay and members Marion Fitzgerald and Nicky Cockburn called in the decision for discussion by the council’s corporate overview and scrutiny committee.

They were concerned that key documents on which the executive based its decision were confidential, so could not be scrutinised by other councillors and the public.

He said: “Everything we do should be as transparent as possible. We should only be withheld information if it is essential.”

Mr Finlay, of Aspatria, said the overriding concern was to establish that the council had sought expert and independent legal advice.

He was concerned to avoid a repeat of a 1994 court case which faced the council after it entered into a partnership to build a swimming pool cross-subsidised by the sale of Keswick timeshare apartments.

Nine members of the committee spent nearly two hours pouring over the decision to form a partnership with Lucent Strategic Land Fund, including an hour discussing the confidential documents.

The council hopes the project will create 1,500 jobs over 20 years and boost housing, retail and other businesses.

The committee agreed it had been given enough information to answer its questions and it was confident that the executive committee had exercised due diligence.

The project will be discussed by the scrutiny committee again in September.

The meeting heard that get-out clauses had been included in the draft agreement, so the council would not be locked into a 20-year deal. In the event that Lucent failed to pay any tax due on partnership projects, the council would not be liable to foot the bill, councillors were told.

Mr Finlay said he was satisfied with the committee’s decisions about the big issues in the call-in, though disappointed that more had not been done to make most of the documents available to the public and the whole council.

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