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Inquiry Reports

Monday, December 22, 2008

Day 14 - Kirkby CEO Attempts Explanations


Mrs Sheena Ramsay, CEO of Knowsley Council, presented her evidence on why Tesco’s proposal was good for the town and took no time at all in reiterating Tesco’s diatribe concerning the severe deprivation suffered by Kirkby. Led by Mr Kingston, the QC for KMBC, the CEO of Knowsley described how the people of Kirkby deserved this opportunity but with over half of the town, up to 25,000 people, suffering some form of deprivation it was impossible for unskilled individuals, with low self-esteem, to improve and that three out of four of their children were being raised in poverty. Mrs. Ramsay described how previous attempts to break a cycle of decline had failed and that this development offered the people of Kirkby a stepping-stone back to employment, explaining that not all the jobs were low paid.

Echoing the views of Everton's recently departed CEO, Mrs Ramsay explained that, for Kirkby, there was no plan b. This was presumably no plan b after Development Securities, who according to the CEO offered only a veneer and no business plan, perhaps the fact they were bought out by Tesco prevented them from doing so, and the St Modwen proposal failed due to being unable to purchase property belonging to Telegraph Properties (Kirkby) Ltd.

Mrs Ramsay closed by responding to Mr Kingston's question regarding Everton and / or Tesco being given land by KMBC. Mrs Ramsay explained that Everton weren't receiving a £52M subsidy from the council via the land on which the proposed stadium stood and, perhaps with the memory of the Liverpool Academy deal ringing in her ears, she confirmed that the council had taken legal advice on ensuring that Everton could not sell on the land to another developer. So that would be legal advice received on preventing Everton selling land that they're not being given. We're glad that's cleared up then.

The Rev Tim Stafford, representing the Kirkby Residents Action Group, KRAG, asked Mrs Ramsay why Council members were not allowed to inform their constituents about the proposals prior to the Council vote, Mrs. Ramsay explained that she didn't know but then said it wasn't common practice for the planning committee to talk openly about such matters, to which Tim replied that it didn't help that the planning committee was heavily skewed towards Kirkby Councillors.

Tim began to question the reasoning behind the lack of positives in the reports, citing that Kirkby Schools were above the national average in science subjects. Mrs Burden interjected at this point and asked Tim to provide figures before continuing along these lines.

Tim next attempted to clarify why KMBC had put out leaflets about the development prior to the elections earlier this year, suggesting that there was a clear political imbalance in this action. Mrs. Ramsay explained that this was to prove that this was an election issue but went on to say it wasn't a referendum. No it certainly wasn't a referendum as Council leader Ronnie Round felt that the people of Kirkby would be unable to understand the complex issues. Of course councilors would understand.

Tim next tried to ascertain why concerns over the stadium were never addressed, not even in the initial consultation process. Predictably Mrs Ramsay didn't know that they weren't but explained that the data was at the JMU. Tim finally established that local residents in Tithebarn Lane were never consulted on their views.

Mr Stephen Sauvain, QC for Liverpool City Council, began his cross-examination with a question on job creation. He suggested that of the 617 jobs Tesco were bring to the town only half that number would be guaranteed for local people; if the other phases didn't happen there would be no more jobs, Mr. Sauvain said “This isn't a step change, and it's not going to halt deprivation is it?” Mrs Ramsay replied that the scheme, as a whole, is not being looked at as just a job opportunity; the scheme is to put Kirkby on the map and make it attractive for investors.

Mr Sauvain continued “What, if any, were the benefits for the community?” Mrs. Ramsay responded, “There will be renewed public buildings an improved public realm and a new image for the area, it's less quantifiable, but it will help residents by raising their expectations of the area.”

Mr Sauvain next asked what steps had been taken to see what could be redeveloped within the existing UDP framework? Mrs Ramsay attempted to refer this question to the redevelopment expert, but Mr Sauvain insisted that Mrs Ramsay answered the question on the grounds that she was the only Council officer he could cross-examination on this matter. He continued “Are you aware of any exercise that has been undertaken to redevelop Kirkby?” without waiting for an answer he launched into another “You have done nothing………..you have waited for someone to come along with a proposal, haven't you?” and another “you only seem to respond to proposals put to you instead of coming up with your own” Mrs. Ramsey, finally taking the opportunity, responded “I don't think that's fair, we wanted to work with Mr. Weiss” (a former owner of the town centre) Mr. Sauvain ignored the response and continued by stating that KMBC had failed, they hadn't even contacted ASDA to see if they wanted to build on their old site.

Mr. Sauvain next turned his attention to the council's receipts from land values; An uncomfortable Mrs. Ramsey stated, “King Sturge are the council's advisors.” Mr. Sauvain wanted to know if the land was sold on development value or use value. Mr. Kingston urgently interjected and stated that the King Sturge report would not be released. Ignoring Mr. Kingston Mr. Sauvain continued “Is the amount of land consistent with the level needed for that amount of enabling / subsidy?” He explained that this is a material and relevant factor, this will enable subsidy, “Is the land being sold with hope value?” Mrs. Ramsay answered, “The land deal relates to this particular development.” Mr. Sauvain wanted to know how the council understood the deal, specifically relating to how Tesco are able to give Everton £52M through this deal. Mrs Ramsay elucidated “Tesco are assisting EFC with the stadium.” As it appeared that a satisfactory explanation wouldn't be putting in an appearance Mr. Sauvain offered his own, “the land increase value would help Everton Football Club, the land value is more than what is being paid to the council? Mrs. Ramsey responded, “The land value is predicated on the development.” At this point Mrs. Wendy Burden attempted to extract some clarity “The council own land. Planning permission is given. If the council then sold the land, could they receive a higher return for the land?” Mrs. Ramsey replied, “If permission was granted for this scheme, yes.” Mrs. Burden continued “Could you get a higher value if you put it on the open market, with planning permission?” An increasingly anxious Mr. Kingston interjected “Covenants have been placed on the land and there are difficulties; Tesco's covenants have been passed onto Everton Football Club.” Mr. Sauvain again stated that there was a clear relationship between the quantum and the £52M, enabling or not. “Who is providing the £52M and who is paying for the construction of the council buildings?” All Mrs. Ramsey could offer was that the money is being obtained from the land sale.

Mr. Peter Fisher, Knowsley Constituency Liberal Democrats, asked questions surrounding replacement sports and leisure facilities. Mrs. Ramsey explained that although a running track would be replaced at Brookfield school, there were no plans for a new cycle track and no new Kirkby suite, but there will be the leisure centre and rooms in the stadium. There will also be new council offices but Huyton will be the nearest civic suite.

Dave Kelly representing KEIOC now took over the cross-examination and began by asking if Mrs. Ramsay was involved in talks concerning Newcastle's possible relocation to Gateshead when Newcastle council employed her. Mrs. Ramsey explained that she wasn't involved but she knew there was strong opposition.

Dave asked when she became aware of Tesco's plan for Kirkby. Mrs. Ramsay answered, “January 2006, but I only really got involved in March or April of that year.” Dave then enquired about the meeting with George Howarth MP on 16th January 2006 but unfortunately Mrs. Ramsey couldn't remember that particular meeting. “Why choose Kirkby when initially looking at other sites?” asked Dave, unfortunately Mrs. Ramsey couldn't remember that either.

Dave moved on to attempt to establish Everton's initial involvement and was told that there had been no reason to bring Everton to the table during the preliminary discussions with Tesco or later Development Securities, nor could KMBC enter into an exclusivity agreement with Development Securities, as they, the council, had already entered into one with Tesco.

Dave, “Did you ask Development Securities if they'd pay market value for the land?” Mrs. Ramsay responded, “They never told us what they wanted.”

Dave, “In 1999, Terry Leahy and David Henshaw were talking about outdated perceptions of Kirkby and looking at it in a good light, what's changed? The former CEO saying Kirkby is great and now you are saying it isn't. So has it improved or stayed the same under your tenure?” Mrs. Ramsay countered, “We are always looking to improve. The fabric of the town center looks worn, needs upgrading and refurbishing.” Dave, “It was a town centre that was winning awards ten years ago.” Mrs. Ramsay “That was ten years ago.”

Dave then asked about Kirkby baths and Barclaycard's intentions. Mrs. Ramsay explained “ Land could have been offered to Barclaycard to expand but they are earmarked for demolition.” Dave, “The development brief in 1997 identified the site to the north for leisure, a supermarket and a petrol station, couldn't that land still deliver this?” Mrs. Ramsay explained, “This case is a different planning application.” Dave, “The residents would think that's the ideal place, being in the town centre.” Mrs. Ramsay, “We can't attract that sort of development.” A puzzled Dave Kelly then asked “Have you seen Development Securities outcome of their presentation?” Mrs. Ramsey “I'm aware of it” Dave, “It's damning, isn't it? 91% of local people preferred their plans to Tesco's; that's a vocal majority. An unimpressed Mrs. Ramsay responded “500 people in a population of 40,000 isn't a majority” Dave replied “Our MP, George Howarth did something similar (with 500 people) which made the front page of the Liverpool Echo, his result was 51% in favour of redevelopment.” Mrs. Ramsay then offered another explanation, “The questions Development Securities asked were phrased in such a way as to get those results.”

Turning to the public consultations Dave asked, “How much was put into the KMBC public consultation?” Mrs. Ramsay “I don't know.” Dave, “By Tesco?” “Don't know” “By Everton?” “Don't know”

Dave continued, “The vast majority of residents were astonished when they found out Everton Football Club had no input while we were continually told about Everton's role in developing the Town Centre. Why was there was no mention of the stadium in the Kirkby Suite?” Mrs Ramsay “There was in the Leisure Centre.” To howls of laughter Dave responded, “There must have been an obstructed view then, I didn't see them.”

Dave moved on to the agreement with Tesco “The agreement was formalized on 9th August 2007; this was three days into the ballot conducted by Everton?” Mrs. Ramsay “It was a Masterplan that both Tesco and Everton could work to.”

Dave asked, “Is a development of this size appropriate for a town whose population is in decline?” Mrs Ramsay could only offer “Other witnesses are better placed……” Dave, “What's been KMBC's role in Destination Kirkby?” Mrs. Ramsay explained, “Destination Kirkby is the brand name, our role has involved negotiating but not influencing.”

Dave, “I was invited to the last Destination Kirkby meeting; if it was truly representative of the community, it should have had trade union representation and faith group representation; why didn't it?” Mrs. Ramsay responded, “I'm not aware it didn't, can you pass me the documentation?”

Dave, “How is this authority going to manage 1,000's of football fans and the aspect of crush-loading onto trains, a term particularly repulsive to people from the City of Liverpool?” Mr. Kingston immediately protected Mrs. Ramsay, “That's a matter for Mr. Ellis, the transport expert.

Dave, “KMBC, Tesco and Everton claim Kirkby can't attract investment. Everyone agrees it needs it, why haven't we achieved it in the past?” Mrs. Ramsay “That's a good question, but I can't say why.” Unconvinced, Dave continued, “There's been £200-£150M of potential investment offered over the past few years from St. Modwen, Development Securities and Tesco; what happened there?” Mrs. Ramsay, “Every effort was made for that to happen but no proper application had been submitted before now.

Dave, “What's KMBC's actual budget?” Mrs. Ramsay, “£350M, approximately.” Dave, “So how will you fund replacement council buildings?” Mrs Ramsay “Through the sale of land”

In closing Dave asked Mrs. Ramsay, “Stonebridge Cross; this development would have had a detrimental effect on Kirkby town centre, so you opposed it, won't Cherry Meadows have a detrimental effect?”

Mrs Burden intervened before Mrs. Ramsay had the opportunity to reply, “The witness is not a planning expert”

Mrs. Ramsay's ordeal will continue tomorrow when Mr. Lancaster takes his opportunity to cross-examine Knowsley's CEO.

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