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Site of the landslip which runs from Rocklands into Ecclesbourne Glen.

Site of the landslip which runs from Rocklands into Ecclesbourne Glen.

FoIs reveal council’s Rocklands appeal costs

The legal costs incurred by the council in its efforts to keep the causes of landslides in Rocklands caravan park under wraps have been revealed through a series of Freedom of Information submissions. In the process, concerns have been raised about the council’s handling of such requests. Nick Terdre reports.

When the Information Commissioner’s Office ruled that Hastings Borough Council should make available a geotechnical report on landslides originating in Rocklands caravan park which have caused the Country Park footpath running beneath the caravan park to be closed for several years, the council decided to appeal.

After a three-day hearing last November it won the appeal and the report – known as Coffey 2 – remains under wraps. But it ran up a substantial legal bill in the process, which has now been revealed to be in excess of £30,000.

A further £230 was spent on staff travel expenses – the tribunal was held in Brighton. But according to the council no estimate is available of the staff time spent on handling the case and attending the tribunal, as it did not then have a system for recording how officer time was used.

It took some persistence, however, for Chris Hurrell of the campaign group Save Ecclesbourne Glen to gain this information. An initial Freedom of Information request lodged with information officer, Lisa Greathead in March elicited the information that pre-tribunal costs for the barrister’s services amounted to some £7,725, but that no further invoices had been received.

Hurrell submitted further FoI requests for the remaining legal costs in May and September but received the same reply – no further invoices had been received. In October he requested a review of the case and was informed that month by Mark Horan, the continous improvement and democratic services manager, that the final invoice was for the sum of £19,506 exclusive of VAT.

Depending on whether the figure for the pre-tribunal costs are included or excluded VAT, the total sum payable for the barrister’s services came to £31,132 or £32,677.

Misinformed

Hurrell was also informed that the final invoice had in fact been received on 15 January, in other words several weeks before his first FoI request.

Horan wrote: “I can confirm the Information Officer was mis-informed by our Finance Department…  Hastings Borough Council has in fact received an invoice from the Barrister, Damien Welfare…Unfortunately this was not found on first investigation, please accept my apologies on behalf of Hastings Borough Council for this error.”

“It seems that Lisa Greathead failed to find this information on three separate occasions in March, June and September,” Hurrell said. “One has to ask how accurate other responses under FoI are.

“This is a small example of how difficult it is to extract any information from HBC. It has taken over six months and a great deal of persistence to finally get the information.”

See also Ruling lets HBC keep landslip report secret

Posted 17:07 Monday, Oct 29, 2018 In: Home Ground

6 Comments


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  1. JS

    HBC play fast and loose with FOI requests all the time, not just with regard to large-scale matters like this but also in instances where an individual is suffering as a direct result of the local authority’s recalcitrance and deliberate misinformation.

    Comment by JS — Monday, Nov 5, 2018 @ 02:12

  2. Eye on the ball

    If there is a further planning application on the table for work that could damage the country park and public access to it, is it possible to:

    – revive the necessity for the geotechnical report to be made public owing to the similar circumstances and possible impact?

    – find a legal way to stop development in this protected area?

    – ask the Green Party to start a petition to save the Country Park from development?

    Any other ideas? If we do nothing, the trees will go, the caravan park will get bigger and more paths will be lost forever.

    Comment by Eye on the ball — Sunday, Nov 4, 2018 @ 07:46

  3. Ms.Doubtfire

    We all have our opinions as to what caused this landslip – but we will never know. HBC have made absolutely sure that we will never see the reports which may reveal the cause/s of this terrible event.
    And now there is a futher planning application in the pipeline whereby the owners of this caravan park have applied for even more works on yet more trees. Their determination to give their customers prime views is unstoppable.
    And of course under new rules made by this council any objections made by residents are worthless because all decisions made on tree works are decided by planning officers and not the planning committee.
    However this planning application clearly shows that some of the trees destined for ‘works’ are WITHIN HBC’s boundaries and therefore in this instance, this planning application must be heard by the planning committee. But the planners are saying the trees are not within Hastings council’s land or the country park conservation areas.
    Who do you believe? I believe the evidence rests with the maps provided many years ago by Hastings Council which show the evidence of the boundaries. You could not make this up. Goal posts shifting again?

    Comment by Ms.Doubtfire — Friday, Nov 2, 2018 @ 08:51

  4. bolshie

    There are still other costs not mentioned here following my FOI of December 2016 on what how much had been spent to date on Rocklands: –

    Legal Fees £49,175,62 – Consultancy Fees £21,515,25 – Reports/Studies fees £19,050.00 and how about this Repairs just £1,050,00. Obviously repairing the damage was not that important.
    Then the Bunker appeal costs was approximately £27,000

    How much more has been spent overall on Rocklands. And of course none of these figures include council staff time and resources that are never logged by the officers.

    As far as the cause of the landslip Mrs Doubtfire, I think one can surmise the cause of it was attributable to the radical work carried out on the southern part of the site. The felling of ( so I have read) of around forty or more trees and clearing the area for the concrete slab to line up those lovely sheds on wheels that I believe were not legal ?

    Comment by bolshie — Thursday, Nov 1, 2018 @ 17:15

  5. J B KNIGHT

    And we still do not know the reasons for the rockfall at Ecclesbourne Glen or any further possible consequences.

    HBC protecting and covering themselves at risk and cost of public welfare and future possible safety.

    The whole bloody cliff could be falling on top of use and they wont tell if their name and reputation is on it.

    Well done good investigative journalists and determined activists.

    However, no further forward I see.

    I argued this the other day about HBC being sneaky and duplicitous. Some people just wont have it.

    Not the first time decisions and actions of HBC have been covered up and silenced by the legal process.

    Comment by J B KNIGHT — Tuesday, Oct 30, 2018 @ 11:10

  6. Ms.Doubtfire

    Of course aside from ‘ratepayers’ money spent by HBC on the many Rocklands issues, the question remains as to what could possibly be so confidential that this council seems prepared to spend so much money on legal advice to keep it all under wraps?
    Dont we have a right to know what caused the landslip and how it could be rectified?

    Comment by Ms.Doubtfire — Monday, Oct 29, 2018 @ 20:14

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