However it seems that Northampton Borough Council in pursuit of the ever elusive Grovesnor Centre Extension scheme has rewritten all the usual rules of commerce!
A contract we know was signed between the Council and the owners of the existing Grovesnor Centre, Legal and General in 2004, I was on the council at the time and was party to the detail of that contract.
Of the four political groups Lib Dem, Tory, Labour and Independent my own group the Independents were the only group not willing to support the deal, we felt that the land in question was being sold by NBC to Legal and General far too cheaply, and we thought the conditions resting on the shoulders of the Council Tax Payer to uphold its end of the contract to be far too high, that was our prerogative and our duty as elected members, the rest of council disagreed and the contract was signed.
Commercial sensitivity to this day excludes me revealing either the price paid to NBC from L&G or the extent of the land purchased or even the fine detail of the contract. But the Councils actions and Legal and Generals inaction since speak with much far more authority than any whistleblower could ever achieve.
First of all The Council had to buy Stagecoach out of its lease on the Greyfriars bus station, this was done to the tune of £5m of Council Tax payers money being handed over to the Bus Company, an irony in itself considering that when Stagecoach first arrived at Greyfriars they were squatters having sold their own bus station facility on the Bedford Road for Housing and thus becoming homeless overnight!
But the £5m was pledged with £2m paid up front. Next to made public was the contractual obligation on the Council to vacate the Old Bus Station and thus build an inadequate replacement on the Old Fish Market site, another tenant (the Northampton Arts Collective) were paid off and another £8m committed to building what will be little more than a glorified oversized glass bus shelter in the middle of a predicted traffic hell. Meanwhile we heard that the Mayorhold Car Park was to have a £2m refit, supposedly as part of the deal (but we can't tell you why!) and in the last few days the Council have now announced they will spend another £4m demolishing the Old Bus station to allow for any future development.
Those with good mental arithmetic skills will now be up to speed on the total figure of £19m of council tax payers money that has already been spent or committed on oiling the cogs of the Grovesnor Centre Extension contract.
And in all that time just what have Legal and General Done? and what have they spent? We have all seen the pretty pictures of proposed schemes press released to the local papers, we have even heard of their extended plans to build houses, hotels and Offices on the still to be disclosed site, and we shook our heads in dismay when they suggested they may have to "scale back" their plans on the size of the extension, but where are the planning applications? where is the financial commitment? Multi Million pound deals like this are not done without careful consideration of timed and phased clauses being imposed on both parties, each party is well aware of what should have been done by whom by when. So why does it seem to many of us that the spend and action is all one way.
I am fortunate in one sense because I have read the contract, I didn't like it, I was out voted by the Lib Dem, Tory and Labour Leaders who respectively went off to their group members and fellow Cllrs at the time and told them how wonderful the Emperors new clothes would be. I invited my two fellow Independents to view the document for themselves and lo and behold they both agreed with me that the Emperor was indeed naked and had even sold off all the Councils Silver and mortgaged our futures in order to afford the tailors bill!
This week The Lib Dem opposition on the Council questioned the spend of the £4m on demolishing the Bus Station, this late arrival at the table of doubt is far too little, far too late, they as a political group in power together with officers of the council negotiated the very same deal and then signed it. The Tory's now in the hot seat at the Guildhall will not want any of the fine details disclosed, they simply want to bathe in any glory they can furnish from ANY future build. and the Labour Party who were equally complicit in agreeing the deal it seems are just incapable of any opposition whatsoever!
So this week in my blog I throw down a challenge to the whole Council, in the absence of any submitted Planning Application or seen progress on behalf of Legal and General and in light of the heavy public expenditure on the development scheme to date from the public purse, then call the whole deal into Public Scrutiny using the Councils powers to give the public of our town the right to judge their actions. If part of the hearing has to be in private with proper explanation and authority then so be it, but it is high time that we all knew the truth, high time the people paying the bills can pass comment on the value they are getting for their money and high time we all were witness to the price Legal and general have paid the Council for the privilege of using this land in the future once the tax payer has dealt with all of the development obstacles.
A measured response would show at least a willingness for them to defend their actions, continued silence will only condemn them all further.