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MOTE PARK: Council in government probe over £400K sewer collapse silence

Friday 30th April 2021

GOVERNMENT commissioners are investigating Maidstone Borough Council’s silence over a £400k sewer collapse in Mote Park.
The cave-in during construction of the Adventure Zone cost taxpayers more than £400,000 when MBC decided not to legally pursue the contractor as the authority felt it was unlikely to succeed. 
When Downs Mail used Freedom of Information legislation last year to ask 11 questions relating to the write-off, MBC refused to answer any of them, citing commercial sensitivities. Downs Mail appealed.
Now senior case officer at the Information Commissioner's Office, Christopher Williams, has been assigned to discover if the council handled our request correctly.
He has indicated on first inspection that the council may have to reconsider its refusal to co-operate.
Mr Williams said: "My investigation will look at whether the council is correct when it says that it is entitled to withhold the information.
"My initial view is that, as the request relates to the collapse of a sewer during construction, it is likely that the information constitutes environmental information.  
"I have, therefore, directed the council to reconsider the request under the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIR) and issue you with a new response.  
“If the council is still withholding information it will need to provide me with its final submissions in this regard, so I can determine whether the information should be disclosed."
Liberal Democrat borough councillor David Naghi, a builder by trade, said: “There should be accountability when it comes to public money and I see no reason why the council should not have disclosed it. Surely the contractor would have had liability insurance if carrying out work for the council and proper procedures were followed.”
Paperwork for the policy and resources committee last summer referred to “the substantial costs (£403,000) incurred as a result of the sewer collapse on the site during the construction phase.
“However, after thorough consideration, it has been concluded that the prospects of successful recovery were too low to make it worthwhile. Accordingly, the cost has been written off against the committee's budget this year.”

The 11 questions which remain unanswered:

1 Who was the contractor?

2 Was the contractor given plans of the site - detailing the presence of sewers etc - prior to work starting or was it their responsibility to carry out these surveys?

3 Against whom did MBC consider legal action?

4 Who did MBC believe to be responsible?

5. Why was legal action dropped?

6 Who acted for the council in a legal capacity?

7 If it was an officer, who?

8 If it was an outside law firm, who was it?

9 Who was the senior officer in charge of the AZ works? 

10 Which officer, named, was responsible for recommending writing off the loss?

11 Which democratically elected members, named, were consulted about the writing off of the loss before it went to P&R (policy and resources committee)?

 

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