“Developer in £13m legal wrangle with Northumberland now plans to take council to High Court”

“A property developer who launched a £13m legal bid against Northumberland County Council says it has been banned from sharing vital information with council members.

Newcastle-based Lugano Group was due to build the Dissington Garden Village – commissioned by Northumberland CC when Labour was in power in the authority – in a move that would create 2,000 homes north of Ponteland,
But since the Conservatives gained control of the area in last year’s local elections, the Dissington project has been put under review, potentially leaving the developer with significant costs reportedly totalling over £13,305,000.

The property firm this week claimed it had “no option” but to take the claim to the High Court against the council itself, leader Peter Jackson, Cllr John Riddle, and chief executive Daljit Lally.

Lugano has said that the council’s solicitors have disclosed the report into the contents of “several anonymous letters of complaints” regarding the conduct of Cllr Jackson and documents associated with that report— however, the information was disclosed 12 weeks after the request, and Northumberland only disclosed the documents subject to confidentiality provisions that bind Lugano.

In a letter to Northumberland CC dated 13 August, Lugano said the council’s solicitors had refused to provide confirmation the key pieces of information, noting that the lawyers are keeping information from council members confidential.

The property developer said that the only “reasonable inference” that can be drawn from the solicitors’ reluctance to disclose the information is that the council would attempt to sue Lugano if copies of the report were provided to the cabinet committee, and those tasked with reviewing the decision to indemnify the legal costs that will incur in defending Lugano’s proceedings.

“We strongly disagree with the council’s solicitors’ comment that they would have a cause of action against Lugano if we were to disclose the report and documents,” the letter said.

In a statement, Northumberland County Council denied all allegations, labelling them “inappropriate, untrue, and defamatory.”

A spokesperson added: “We are aware of further correspondence from the Lugano Group, and continue to take legal advice in this regard.
“As previously stated, we believe that the council has acted lawfully and reasonably throughout this process. We continue to work with Lugano on their live planning application for Dissington Garden Village.”


“DWP forced to admit more than 111,000 benefit deaths”

“The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) has been forced to release updated Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) mortality statistics, in response to a Freedom of Information request from disability campaigner Gail Ward.

The shocking statistics reveal that 111,450 ESA claims were closed following the death of claimants between March 2014 to February 2017.

However, the DWP stress that “no causal effect between the benefit and the number of people who died should be assumed from these figures”.

This is because the Department “does not hold information on the reason for death”, meaning they cannot be directly linked to any benefit problems faced by those claimants or whether some of these people had died after wrongly being found “fit for work”.

The DWP has since been urged to update these statistics to include individuals who flowed off ESA after being found “fit for work” and who died soon after this time.

The data also shows that more than 8,000 Incapacity Benefit and Severe Disability Allowance claimants died over the same period.

Gail Ward told Welfare Weekly: “The fact the DWP know that disabled people are dying in such large numbers and refuse to adjust policy to reduce the stress on claimants and make sure the right outcome is 100% all the time, and with Universal Credit coming with such strict criteria, doesn’t bode well for the future for the disabled community”.


Two unitary Devon areas – the case against weakens

DCC leader John Hart has gone on record as saying two unitary councils for two different parts of Devon can never happen, since however you split the county there would always be a poorer authority and a richer one.

Owl has challenged this idea citing “Greater Exeter” as a quasi-unitary authority by stealth already.


However, Dorset has just been split in two with two councils with very different profiles: a largely income-rich urban east and a more rural west.

It seems (after the Torbay debacle and continuing austerity cuts) that ALL councils are now poor, so does his argument still hold water – or is it now a leaky bucket?

Would a change result in savings that could go to front-line services? If so, what is the rationale for the status-quo?

Well, of course, it would mean fewer councillors …..!

Will Torbay (and its soon-to-be-unelected Mayor and Tory majority) be next to topple?

During the last few turbulent years Torbay elected a super-Mayor, had a referendum to stop having a super-Mayor, its Tories split, split again, then split again and recently it was suggested by councillors that it should be subsumed back into Devon County Council. Not sure DCC will want to welcome it with open arms …..

Torbay council has called an immediate halt to non-urgent spending and stripped its services back to the statutory minimum because of financial pressures.

The Conservative-run council ordered the freeze after its budget report for the first quarter forecast an overspend of more than £2.8 million by the end of the year, which it attributed to a substantial increase in the number of children being looked after.

Steve Parrock, the chief executive, told councillors: “Even if an activity or contract is budgeted for, the task or expenditure may be postponed or cancelled if the work is deemed not urgent by the chief finance officer or myself.”

He added that the Devonshire council faced “significant financial challenges due to government funding cuts and increasing demands, particularly in social care”.

Labour called it a crisis that had arisen because of cuts to local authority funding. Andrew Gwynne, the shadow communities and local government secretary, urged the government to “finally wake up to the consequences of their austerity programme”.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: “We are providing local authorities with £90.7 billion over the next two years to meet the needs of their residents.

“We are also giving them the power to retain the growth in business rates income and are working with local government to develop a funding system for the future based on the needs of different areas.”

Northamptonshire county council recently approved major cuts to jobs and services to tackle a £70 million shortfall and continues to be supervised by government commissioners.

East Sussex and Somerset county councils have warned that they could run out of money in the next two to three years, and auditors have said that Lancashire county council’s financial position is at a “tipping point”.”


Do you have a Taylor Wimpey house? Check your mirrors!

“A house builder is checking wardrobe mirrors at a new development after one fell and ‘exploded’ near to where a baby normally sleeps.

Jennie and Joe Adams claim full-length wardrobe mirrors were ‘stuck on with tape’ at their new home in Gorebridge, Midlothian.

As a result, they say one of the mirrors fell off and crashed to the floor with a massive bang, leaving shards of glass everywhere. …

A spokeswoman for Taylor Wimpey East Scotland said: ‘We are very sorry to learn about the situation at our Harvieston Park development, and we have carried out a full investigation in conjunction with our wardrobe door installer to understand the circumstances.

‘We have apologised to the family involved and we have offered our assistance to resolve this matter for them.

‘As an additional precaution, and to provide comfort to other homeowners living at the development, we will conduct additional checks on similarly fitted mirrored wardrobe doors that could be affected to make sure this issue does not happen again.’


“Help to Buy mess as taxpayers subsidise thousands of homes for couples earning more than £100,000”

“Thousands of wealthy families are taking advantage of a taxpayer scheme designed to help struggling first-time buyers get on the housing ladder.

More than 6,700 households with incomes over £100,000 have bought homes using Help to Buy, according to the government’s own figures.

The scheme provides taxpayer cash to people seeking a mortgage. But despite its original aim to help people who could not afford big deposits, nearly one in 20 households with support have six-figure incomes.

And families with incomes of £50,000 or more have now received 40 per cent of loans, according to the report by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

Of the families who used the scheme, 136,700 were first-time buyers. A fifth of families using the scheme were not first-time buyers.

There is no maximum income on the Help to Buy scheme, which applies to new-build homes.

The scheme allows house hunters to purchase new-builds worth up to £600,000 using deposits of only 5pc – or £30,000.

The Government loans up to another 20pc interest-free for five years – or £120,000. In London, the taxpayer loan can reach 40pc of the value of the property – or £240,000.

When the house is sold, the government takes the same proportion of the sale price. If it goes up, the government makes money. If it goes down, the taxpayer makes a loss.

Campbell Robb, Joseph Rowntree Foundation chief executive, said a lack of cash invested in affordable housing meant more pressure on families forced to rent.

A government spokesman said: ‘The majority of those using our Help to Buy Equity Loan scheme had household incomes of £50,000 or less.’ “


Consultation: new case law a game-changer

Owl reported all these cases as the happened but it is useful to see them all in one place.

Consultation is going to have to mean consultation!

Four JR judgments in fifteen days with profound implications for public consultations! Almost every current public consultation – or those under preparation might be affected by one or more of these important judgments.