Brentwood Borough Council

Brentwood Borough Council

Quick Links

Skip Navigation | Home page | Site map | Search | Help | Complaints procedure | Disclaimer | Feedback | Access key details
Brentwood Borough Council

FOI 11183

Old House. Ref: Policy, Finance and Resources Committee 30.06.2015.

Request

Old House “Refurbishment”.

 Comment: The title of this item is extremely misleading. It is not merely a “refurbishment”, but a sell-off of a public asset to private hands for profit to goodness-knows-who. Was this to deliberately mislead the people of Brentwood?

Please could you supply the following information, or indicate where it is on the Brentwood Council web site. Thank you.

 1. Please supply any documents that show the (many?) past attempts claimed by Cllr Roger Hirst of the current Conservative administration of Brentwood Council to drum up interest from charities (or other) to buy / rent / use Old House for community purposes. He claimed in the chamber that the Conservatives repeatedly looked for community groups who could make use of Old House.

Comment: If, as Roger Hirst claimed, many attempts were made historically to bring Old House to the attention of the Brentwood people / community groups, to drum up interest, why did Cllr William Russell say that many residents he had met had NEVER HEARD OF OLD HOUSE? This is a clear contradiction of Roger Hirst’s claims. The building has stood anonymous and empty for many years now. Was a sign ever put up outside to drum up interest in the building? I do not remember seeing one.
Comment: Cllr Roger Hirst pointedly dismissed the amount of protesters in the chamber as being “two dozen”. If the council doesn’t tell people what is going on or consult them, and if local papers do not report on council matters to any great extent, and if local buses stop at 7pm, how can he expect more people to show up?

 2. Please supply copies of the literature / manifesto that Roger Hirst appears to claim was available to the public before the recent elections, that make it clear that they would, if / once in power again, SELL OFF Old House as fast as possible, to a private developer (or other). Could you also please ascertain from the Conservative Administration how many Brentwood addresses received this literature / manifesto. (I didn’t get a copy in my area.)

Comment: Roger Hirst claimed “Can I remind you that this was a principle, a key point of our election platform of the elections in May”. Firstly, to whom exactly was he making this comment? Secondly he wasn’t REMINDING us, as he hadn’t even told us in the first place. Thirdly, if it was such a key point, why wasn’t this disseminated to the people of Brentwood? Why wasn’t it in the papers? Why no sign on Old House?

 3. Please supply evidence / documents that show any other ways in which the Conservative administration of Brentwood Council informed the public about their intention to sell Old House, including consultations, notices, letters, posters, press releases / articles etc. Were any documents produced for the public where alternative uses were put forward?

Comment: William Russell claimed that “Most people … would rather have a capital receipt from it than borrow money”. Please can he tell us who these people are that think this, where he encountered them and how many people he asked? Also if as he claims many residents hadn’t heard of Old House, how could they express such opinions if they don’t know anything about the building? Were they basing their opinion purely on what he told them – which was possibly his own opinion / agenda?

4. Please can you provide a Brentwood Council definition of “commercially sensitive”, and explain why there was so much “pink paper”, and why the public were not allowed to see much of the detail.

5. Please supply any other documents that show the history of this matter, and of any costings that are not on “pink paper”.

6. Any documents that show the state of the building when it was last in use, and the current state of the building.

 7. Any documents showing who was using the building when it was closed down. Any documents that might explain the claimed under-use. There must be a reason why it became under-used – bad management? Not repaired?
Comment: I remember it as a buzzing hub, with MANY different groups using it.

 8. Any other relevant information upon this matter in any form.

Comment: Cllr Hossack talked of “best value” in financial terms, but what about “community value”? Also the financial value will be to the private company that buys it. The community value will be for ALL of Brentwood. He also opines from his own biased extremist right winger political / ideological view / the premise that we are in a period of recession / austerity, but that is just a matter of opinion. Many people contest this as a given, and say it has been used as an excuse to scare the general population into accepting harsh unnecessary measures, while the rich get even richer.
Comment: Cllr Hirst did not respond to Cllr Philip Mynott’s point re “best value”. How is it that Cllr Hirst can talk only of “community value” as opposed to “financial value” when it suits his purposes? Shouldn’t he be more consistent in his principles?

If Brentwood is short of funds, would that be due to our local MP Eric Pickles, cutting local government funding and making us sell off our heritage? How much did the DCLG cut from Brentwood over the last five years? Shameful. If the Conservatives say there is no option but to reluctantly sell it off, despite their best efforts to drum up interest, this is within an economic climate of their own construction, and aligned to their own beliefs. If they are selling “reluctantly” as the only option, why are they not contesting their own party’s economic performance and policies? They are not. They are quite clearly HAPPILY going along with selling off Old House, while making camouflaging / covering noises.

 8. Cllr Louise McKinlay talked of the many council projects for Brentwood that would benefit from the money made from the sale of Old House. Which projects are these? Why don’t the people of Brentwood know what they are? Please supply any information on these planned projects.

 9. It was said in the meeting by Cllr Parker(?) that all Brentwood community halls lose money. Please can you provide evidence for this assertion. Shouldn’t the council be finding out why this is, and doing something about it? Isn’t that a management failure?

Comment: Cllr Parker talked of protecting Brentwood TAXPAYER’S money. People are not two dimensional, they are not just focussed on money, on not paying taxes, but have other areas of interest. What about protecting Brentwood’s learners, teachers, artists, yoga practitioners, judo experts, flower-arrangers, history buffs, campaign groups, singers and musicians, actors, etc etc. who could ALL use this space?

 10. It was said at the meeting that “an inordinate amount of money had already been spent on this project . How much? What on? Doesn’t that point to gross ineptness of the Conservative administration rather than to Old House being some sort of inferred money pit?

11. Were the people of Brentwood told that it was a clear choice for funding between Merrymeade and Old House? I don’t remember being given this stark choice re: funding. Who was consulted? When and how? Can you please provide a clear history of this matter, and the links between Merrymeade and Old House and why one had to wait upon the other.

 12. Cllr Parker referred to surveys. What does he mean by this? Who was surveyed? Or are we talking about building surveys? It wasn’t clear.

13. Cllr Faragher said (somewhat to point-score rather than debate) that the Accord had wanted to build 6 luxury flats. The point is, the building would have remained in the hands of Brentwood Council, it would NOT have been sold off.

Comment: I did not personally want to see Old House turned into flats. I would far rather it was a community hub / heritage and community centre or museum. Brentwood needs a heart, and an identity other than TOWIE. However, retaining it as a Brentwood asset and converting it into flats and making income on it into the future for ALL of Brentwood was a FAR superior plan than the Conservative plan to sell it off for short term gain to who knows who. I don’t see why Cllr Faragher was so keen to try to make this non-point.

 14. Can you please give details of the proposal from the community group that has now come forward / made some sort of offer.

 15. Could you please supply a copy of Cllr Paul Barrel’s in-depth historical research? Could he also explain what point his fact-finding mission was attempting to evidence / illustrate? What points and conclusions were we supposed to take from it? It wasn’t at all clear from what he said in the chamber. He seemed to think his vast wad of historical and local geographical research illuminated the Conservatives “argument” for selling it off. Does he even know what he meant? How does a map from 1920 showing various odd other buildings add to the debate? Was it just to try to impress us with his research abilities? Again, he spoke from the premise of “a recession” and “austerity”, which many people do not believe is true, but an ideological tool / propaganda of the extremist right wing Conservatives. Can he please unscramble what he said about only a few people being able to afford (flats?)  What did he mean, was he referring to the Accord plan? If so, it would still belong to and benefit Brentwood financially in the LONG TERM. If Old House is sold off, NO BODY will be able to use it, only the few that live there or use it.

Comment: Again, we only saw opinion, not evidence from the Council Leader, Louise Mckinlay. Again, it was based on – some would say – the LIE of austerity / recession, which an ideological standpoint / propaganda of the extreme right wing, a tool to make the people of the UK comply with having their belts tightened and everything sold off into private hands, and shrinking the state.

 16. HOW LONG has the Old House been closed up and neglected? Did this take place BEFORE the current claimed “recession” / “period of austerity”???

17. What is the current protected status of the building? Please could you supply a copy of the letter from English Heritage with any of their comments, restrictions and recommendations.

 18. Please can you supply any information which might explain / relates to grounds / evidence for the obscene haste with which the current administration have voted to sell off Old House.

Councillor Hirst said that Brentwood Council doesn’t NEED Old House. That is HIS opinion. He has NOT asked any of us for OUR opinion. That is a massive failure of his arrogant dictatorial undemocratic administration.

Comment: Of what relevance was it to the chamber that Cllr Parker is fortunate enough to be able to afford to reside in and upkeep a 400 year old house? He could have talked in general terms. It came across as unnecessary bragging.

 

Response

Thank you for your  FOI requests.

The stimulus for your request appears to be the webcast of the Policy Resources and Finance Committee of the 3rd June 2015.  Later in this letter I refer to the Asset Infrastructure and Localism Panel meeting on the 28th February 2012 which is also available on the Council’s website. 

You refer in your request to the speeches made by Cllrs Hirst, Russell, Hossack, McKinlay and Parker, it is not the function of Freedom of Information to elaborate or interpret speeches of Council in debate.  Eighteen months ago the High Court considered in detail the  consideration of a different authority dealing with a planning matter that was subsequently challenged.  The reference of this case is [2014] EWHC 348 (Admin).  If you would like to have the transcript please see the link:
http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2014/348.html

In particular paragraphs 33 and 37-41.  If the High Court cannot consider what individual Councillors say then the FOI regime is not able to respond either unless there is information corporately available and that is the purpose of this letter and reply. 

The Old House is of course a listed building for the purposes of the Planning (Listed Buildings & Conservation Areas) Act 1990 for which the Council’s local planning authority has statutory powers and regulatory responsibility.  There is no responsibility for a planning authority to retain ownership of heritage assets:  that is a matter for each  individual authority and is partly a matter of the use of resources which is again an entirely discretionary matter for the authority concerned. 

 1 to 3 – These questions relate to individual counsellors’ speeches in committee debate and are not amenable to reply as explained above.

4.   The answer to your question is that access to information rules drawn from Schedule 12A Local Government  Act 1972 and Orders made under that Act are incorporated into Brentwood Council Constitution.  Please see attached.

In this particular case where the sale of a building is under consideration it is quite normal practice for details which may affect realisable prices under any prospective bidding or tendering the exempt from public disclosure.

5. Information presented at the meeting of the Councils Asset Infrastructure and Localism Panel   on 28th February 2012 and subsequent committees and Panels is available on the Councils website.

6.  Please refer to the information set out in the report to the Councils Asset Infrastructure and Localism Panel 28th February 2012.

7. The property was managed by Brentwood Leisure Trust.

8.  This question is couched in far too broad terms for a response under FOI:  your comments seek to advance your argument as a requester of information but are discursive and not directed to posing a question of fact. 

Your numbering unfortunately repeated question 8 and requires renumbering 8A.

8A.  The Council has to make a distinction between capital and revenue projects for financial management:  the sale of land always creates a capital receipt in Local Government Financial Regulations.  Capital projects may be financed either through borrowing or use of capital receipts.  It is a matter of discretion for each authority the extent of which capital projects are financed through capital receipt. 

9.  We are not able to provide the information as to what was in Cllr Parker’s mind when he made the remark.

10. Information was set out in the report to 30th June Policy, Finance and Resources report.

11.  Unfortunately there is lack of clarity about information being requested. 

12.  We cannot answer this question in so far as it relates to what Cllr Parker meant during debate.  In response to earlier questions we have referred to previous committee agendas.

13.  This is not a question.

14.  Bidding information is commercially sensitive and  the S. 43 (2) exemption would apply , in that disclosure of which would be likely to prejudice the commercial interests of any person including the council .  As such , in all the circumstances of the case , the public interest in withholding the information is outweighed by the public interest in disclosing the exemption.
 
15.  Cllr Barrell has not provided his research and the questions that you pose are outside the scope of the legislation unless redefined. 

16. Old House was closed during financial year 2008/9.

17. Currently Grade II* EH letter was part of a pink report to in 2013 but could be made available for inspection.

18.  Although you phrase the request as a question the reality is that you are making an observation that the Council used “obscene haste” to reach a decision.  This is not  a matter for this response.