Back in September, South Kesteven held a cabinet meeting in Market Deeping. I attended and asked plenty of questions (it would have been rude not to!). The final item on the agenda concerned “Strategic Regeneration Acquisitions – land in South Kesteven”
The item was considered commercially sensitive and was therefore held in ‘closed session’ i.e. the press and public were excluded. I stayed in the meeting in order to find out what the fuss was about. After a brief discussion the following decision was made:
Cabinet authorises the acquisition of a parcel of land in the South Kesteven area (a) subject to contract, satisfactory replies to searches and enquiries and to the terms negotiated; and (b) subject to approval by Council of the necessary budget allocation.
During the discussion, no-one mentioned which piece of land was being acquired and so, at the end of the meeting, I asked to see the paperwork and was given detailed information about this important decision. It seemed to me that, in principle, the purchase seemed a sensible investment.
The decision was ratified by the next Full Council meeting on 27th September when, once again, the press and most of the Council officers were asked to leave the meeting for the duration of the event along with the single solitary member of the public who was in attendance. Clearly, this was a highly-sensitive negotiation which must not be allowed to leak.
The proposal was presented as part of a bundle of amendments to the budget framework which were agreed unanimously by the 38 Councillors present (don’t ask me what the other 18 thought as they didn’t turn up).
Two week’s later, the secret investment was unveiled by the leader as part of a speech to an SKDC economic summit at Grimsthorpe Castle. Unfortunately, attendance at the event was by invitation only and I was told in no uncertain terms that I wasn’t invited, Fortunately, the Stamford Mercury was invited and helpfully they published the Leaders’s speech in full which included the following comment:
“I’m therefore pleased to announce this evening that we are in the final stages of the acquisition of a large development site on the edge of Stamford that is currently occupied by Cummins… the future of the site on Barnack Road will continue to provide local employment opportunities. “
Before the ‘Summit’ I was advised by the Chief Exec that Cllr Lee intends to speak to the Council about the event.
Soon after the Grimsthorpe event, Cllr Lee sent an email to Councillors lauding the success of the summit in which he said:
“While it was announced officially last night, it was clear that the location was, in fact, an open secret among many in Stamford. This underlines the importance of us having DeliverSK so that our commercial discussions can remain confidential in the future.”
Two months later, at Full Council in November I asked a question regarding when information about the event, which had cost Council Tax payers over £14,000, would be shared formally with Councillors. The answer was vague and included a thinly-veiled attack on me for my supposed cynicism.
A month later than that, I attended the SKDC Cabinet and asked some more questions including whether Cllr Lee could elaborate publicly on the details of the land acquisition as, so far, Councillors had only been formally briefed in secret. Astonishingly, Cllr Lee responded that, due to the ongoing procedures concerning over site, he could not make comment about the site openly in a Council meeting.
I’m confused. Back in October, the Conservative Leader of SKDC publicly announced, to the press and business community, the specific location of 15-acre SKDC land acquisition in Stamford but, when I asked for the same information as a Councillor at a council meeting, for some incomprehensible reason he was ‘keeping mum’.
I expect all will be revealed soon, probably in a volley of photo-opportunities and press releases, and just weeks before the SKDC election!