26 January 2010

More from the vaults........

One of the specific areas of my enquiries has been into Somerton Town Council's conduct of its purchase, ownership and, finally, disposal of land at Etsome Terrace, near the geographical centre of Somerton. This land was purchased in 2003, ostensibly as the site for a community hall but, after 5 years of prevarication and obfuscation, the Keenan/Canvin Council flogged 50% of it to a business contact of Canvin's, Edgar Homes, as a residential development site. The deal wasn't completed until 9 months later, in September of 2008, when the Keenan/Canvin regime agreed not to sell but to swap the land at Etsome for an industrial shed on the Bancombe Trading Estate (prop A H Canvin). And who was the vendor of this industrial shed? None other than Edgar Builders, a company that shares the same directors as Edgar Homes. This is not what I would call an 'arms length' transaction.

Also, compare Unit 8, Cary Court, the Edgar Builders premises for a short time:

to the premises that they moved to after selling Unit 8 to Somerton:

It certainly occured to me that Unit 8 seemed like a very grandiose project for a building company and this is an observation that has been made to me by other businesses on the Bancombe Trading Estate. All the more so when the company relocates to a unit which seems rather more in keeping with a firm of builders.

But I digress. When I was able to look at the Etsome Terrace files, apart from being totally shambolic, they tell a story of unbelievable incompetence and mismanagement. It seems that from the very outset, when the old Somerton Town Council purchased Etsome Terrace, they immediately 'forgot' the reason for the purchase: to build a community hall on the site. Almost immediately they embarked on a hare-brained scheme to build a health centre on the site and, from what I have seen so far, this project absorbed them for the better part of 4 years leading, ultimately, to failure and then an indecently hasty sale of half the land to a builder.

If you read the public reporting of this process as it is described in the Town Council's Minutes, you are given the impression that the Leadership of the Town Council are working very hard to pull-off an astoundingly good deal for the Town. But there was criticism of the conduct of this affair internally from one councillor and it is hard to understand why this criticism was not aired publicly. Here are extracts from November 2005:

Extract 1

Extract 2

Extract 3

Extract 4

There is a lot more in a similar vein and it confirms the view that the Keenan/Canvin administration conducted the business of the Council behind a veil of secrecy and exclusion. It is also clear from the documents that, from 2002, Etsome Terrace was clearly seen as the site for a Community Hall. There was a publicly stated preference for this option which was established by the Somerton Community Association which undertook a survey of opinion on the matter. 84% of the respondents to the survey were in favour of a community hall on the site. So why did the Keenan/Canvin administration derail the community hall project? The remarkable lack of documentation allied to the secrecy surrounding the Council's activities between 2002 and September 2008 mean that it is very hard to establish what the Council was up to.

What is clear is that the agenda followed by the Keenan/Canvin administration was not the agenda set by the community. At least one councillor had grave reservations about this situation but they clearly decided to keep their reservations within the confines of the Council.

Today, the community of Somerton face the unenviable task of trying to make the Tin Dunny a workable proposition. Most of the stakeholders who were involved in the Community Hall Steering Group have fallen by the wayside and the community has no real sense of ownership of the Dunny. But they have the responsibility for paying for it.

Till next time, I'm Niall Connolly

PS Anyone wishing to see these documents can get in touch with me or plough through the files held by Somerton Town Council.