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Crescent Gardens: we need to know what has gone wrong

November 24, 2018 11:45 AM

Read NYCC Councillor Geoff Webber's letter on the delayed the sale of the previous council offices in Crescent Gardens that was published in this week's Harrogate Advertiser:

Crescent Gardens 24.11.18

"Like many of your readers I have been surprised at the apparent lack of action on the sale of the previous council offices in Crescent Gardens. It is difficult for the public to understand why this is taking so long when we understood that the council had a buyer. There must also be concern about the deteriorating state of the building and the fact that business rates continue to be paid. There is also the cost of heating the building (of which a small part remains occupied, but not by the council) now that winter is upon us.

I have recently made several requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. The first request was "What is the approximate interest on investment that Harrogate Borough Council has lost due to the delayed capital receipt on the sale of Crescent Gardens Council Offices." Almost unbelievably the response came, "Your request is not one which seeks information that the council hold." This implies that any decisions over extending the sale deadline are made with no knowledge of what the delay is costing the council tax payer.

My second request asked, "What sum remains outstanding on the sale of the previous council offices in Crescent Gardens" and "For how long has it been outstanding beyond the original completion date." Once again the response was less than helpful with an answer to the financial query saying, "This information is held by the council but the council considers it exempt from disclosure under Regulation 12(5)(e) of the Environmental Information Regulations 2004" and an answer to the completion date saying, "There was not an original agreed date for completion."

The Freedom of Information Act came about to promote open government and avoid secrecy where is was not needed. It was supported, at least in principle, by nearly all local authorities and was seen as a method whereby the ordinary citizen could get information on their local or central government in a spirit of co-operation. It seems that Harrogate Borough Council have interpreted this differently and treat requests as a challenge in how not to provide it. This whole debacle must be of concern to every council tax payer. The building is theirs, not the private property of the council officers or cabinet. The money being lost as a result of this protracted and, I suggest, mismanaged disposal is the council tax payers' money and we have a right to know what has gone wrong."