Deal to stay secret as tell-all plea fails

The Crystal Road property and (below) David Palmer.
The Crystal Road property and (below) David Palmer.
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A BID to force town hall chiefs to hand over a report into a controversial £2.7m property deal has failed.

The Information Commissioner has ruled Blackpool Council can keep the findings under wraps.

David Palmer

David Palmer

The authority has refused to publish the report which cleared councillors of any wrongdoing when the multi-million pound stock of houses was sold for just £3 as part of a social housing pilot scheme now underway.

Transactions included the purchase of a property on Crystal Road owned by former Tory councillors Ian and Susan Fowler, and the purchase of former hotels Shadowlands on Pleasant Street, and the Saville on Tyldesley Road, and the King Edward Apartments on Central Drive using funding from the Homes and Communities Agency.

Taxi driver and campaigner David Palmer applied to the Information Commissioner seeking the £65,000 KPMG report to be made public.

He maintains the properties were over-valued when originally bought.

But the commissioner has ruled the public interest was outweighed by the need for the council to be able to take legal advice in confidence.

He says in his report “the public interest in disclosure does not equal or outweigh the strong inherent public interest in maintaining the council’s right to obtain appropriate legal advice in confidence.”

However, he did accept “significant public concern has been expressed arising out of the size of the sums of public money paid by the council.”

Mr Palmer said he would be continuing his battle to see the report.

He said: “It is apparent they showed the commissioner a watered down report from KPMG rather than the interim report that was given to the council back in September.

“I think a new request will also be put forward to the council as any legal argument should have been dealt with by now, so they will not be able to use that excuse again to stop the report being made public.”

Council leader Coun Simon Blackburn, who ordered the probe into the deal which took place during the previous Conservative administration, said: “Mr Palmer, unwisely in my view, sought a full and unredacted version of the report via a Freedom of Information request, despite the fact both the chief executive and I were prepared to discuss salient points with him.

“We received legal advice that publication would be unwise, and I note the Information Commissioner holds the same view.

“The council has learnt lessons from the mistakes made under the previous administration in respect of these purchases – appropriate action has been taken in respect of the staff involved – most of who no longer work for Blackpool Council.

“I was pleased to note no councillor from the Conservative group – who were in power at the time – was found to have acted improperly, and now consider the matter to be closed.”

But Conservative group leader Coun Tony Williams claimed the council wanted “to bury the report because it is an embarrassment.”

He added: “It is time the public saw what their £65,000 paid for.”

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