Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Johnson House update

Following the call in of Copeland Council's executive deciding to sell land at Johnson house, the Executive has considered the recommendation from the panel which reviewed the decision.

They decided to properly advertise the proposed sale, as should have been done in the first place, and to hold further discussions with the potential buyers and the neighbours: the executive has also requested a report on some of the other issues raised by the call in.

There is grounds for optimism that an honorable compromise may be found for the site, and it does appear that at least some of the serious concerns which came out during the call-in may be addressed, but anyone who has been following the story of Johnson House will be aware that Copeland Council has some important learning points from this episode.


Anonymous said...

The Council could have learnt these 'important points' years ago but no one (that’s Councillors of all flavours) was interested.

The Sale of Whitehaven Golf Course was undertaken in exactly the same unaccountable manner, with all legislation ignored, with no scrutiny, and the deal done in secret behind closed doors. Councillors didn’t have anything to gain by questioning the sale or ensuring it was done correctly so everyone just ignored it.

The Sale of Whitehaven Golf Course clearly wasn’t Best Value, but it could even be deemed unlawful.

Chris Whiteside said...
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Chris Whiteside said...

I partly agree with your first point: one of the recommendations from the Johnson House call in is to develop a proper set of policies and procedures for disposal of land, and you could certainly argue that the history of the golf course reinforces the case for that.

However, while I wasn't on the council at the time, what I've been told subsequently about the sale of the freehold for the golf course does not stack up with the rest of your comments. It will be interesting to see what the District Auditor has to say.

I do think there was a serious omission when the original lease was granted some years before that - there should have been a clause requiring the council's written agreement before the lease could be assigned.

Such a clause could potentially have enormously improved the council's bargaining position and the value obtained for the site.

Anonymous said...

Chris, the Officers wont tell you truth about their negligence so before you start making any more rash statements I would take a look at all the documentation.

If we want a decent Council the very least we should expect is compliance with the law, unfortunately Copeland BC can't even do that.

Anonymous said...

12 December 2008
Mr Martin Jepson [Head of Legal and Democratic Services] is adamant that the Council made no mistakes in the handling of the disposal of the Johnson House land.
Mr Mark Heap the District Auditor is satistied with Mr Jepson's assertions.

Chris Whiteside said...

I have not seen the most recent comments from Martin Jepson, but the three councillors who investigated the sale - two of whom were Labour then and now, and a third who has since defected from the Conservatives to Labour - all thought that there had been significant mistakes. Their report is in the public domain and I agree with it.

As at 11 January 2009 the accounts for 2006/7 and 2007/8 have still not been finalised - a very sore point indeed - and therefore a final view of from the auditors has not been made yet.

Mark Heap was auditor for 2006/7 and for the Whitehaven Golf course investigation - another auditor is dealing with 2007/8 which will take in Johnson House.

Anonymous said...

Johnson House will fall in the 2008/09 Accounts, whilst the Council finally decided to advertise the Sale they didn't make all the details available which Judges have stated they should, particularly the price. At least this debacle was done in Public, the Golf Course was sold in a shroud of secrecy - the disposal wasn't even advertised.

Chris Whiteside said...

You're quite right. I should hsve written that Johnson House will fall under the responsibility of the new auditor who takes over from Malcolm Heap with effect from the 2007/8 accounts. It will indeed form part of the 2008/9 accounts - and I regret to say that the council still has not obtained signoff on the 2006/7 accounts, let alone those for 2007/8.

You may say that this is not good enough. You will be right.