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Falmouth Wharves secret cash compensation row refuses to sink
Updated 2:19pm Thursday 17th July 2014 in News
The developer behind a failed bid to build at Falmouth Wharves was handed a compensation payment as Cornwall Council did not advise them of a ‘fundamental objection’ to the plans.
Questions continue to be asked about the “compensation”, at a reported cost of £30,000, plus the time of officers at the authority, alongside a false response to a Freedom of Information request, with a member of a campaign group set up to fight the development calling it “disgusting” and a “cover-up”.
The response to the FOI request said that, “Cornwall Council holds no record of any money being paid to the applicants or their associates in connection to the refusal of application PA/12/04275”, when in fact the money was paid.
Belle Benfield, from Friends of Falmouth Wharf, said: “That Cornwall Council can cover up maladministration with an undercover payment of £30,000 and then lie about it is truly disgusting.
“A sum of money greater than many of our public servants’ salaries in Cornwall has been used as a pay-off with apparently zero disclosure and zero accountability.
“The public has a right to know exactly who handled the pre-application engagement for planning and how?
“In what way exactly was this application handled badly to the tune of £30,000? Which senior council officer has carried out this review and where is the report?”
“Why, when a Freedom of Information request was submitted from the public, were they told that no compensation payment had been made in relation to Falmouth Wharf?
She added: “We demand full transparency and accountability from Cornwall Council.”
Cornwall Council has called the compensation “reasonable” under the circumstances.
A spokesman said: “The Council undertook pre-application work with the applicant prior to the formal application process, but this did not elicit its own fundamental objection to the development proposal.
“In the particular circumstances of this application, given its nature and history, it was reasonable that the council’s in principle objection should have been communicated to the applicant in the pre-application process, and this was relevant to the applicant in deciding whether or not to proceed with an application.
“It was for this reason that the complaint was upheld and a compensation payment commensurate with the sum of the application fee was paid.
“A review is being undertaken to ensure that such a situation is avoided in the future.”
However the explanation, and the previous reason given for the false FOI response, blamed on a communication break-down, has not satisfied everyone.
Mr R Burnie, who made the above FOI request and received the false reply, said: “Because the rumour of payment would not die down, Councillorr Hanna Toms, whose ward covers Falmouth Wharves, probed further and discovered that in fact a compensation payment was made.
“This does not seem to be correct. Following this payment, which represents £2 for every person in Falmouth, I am angry that my council tax is being wasted in this way.
“Is it correct that potential council maladministration is bought off and left undisclosed?
“Why was there no investigation immediately after the payment was deemed to be payable?
“Who was responsible? Where is their public apology and explanation? What were the consequences to them for their actions?
“Any FOI request can be evaded by giving a false reply and then saying the person was not aware of the facts. What actions are being made to improve the council’s process for FOI requests?”