No Use Empty funding

Cliftonville & Margate Future's Group made this Rhyddid Gwybodaeth request to Kent County Council

This request has been closed to new correspondence from the public body. Contact us if you think it ought be re-opened.

Roedd y cais yn llwyddiannus.

Cliftonville & Margate Future's Group

Dear Kent County Council,

We, from 15 groups** that form the Cliftonville & Margate Future's Group ie Residents' Associations, business groups and other community organisations, are writing to request information about your funding of the following organisations or projects. Specifically, we would like to know

No Use Empty
1. How many properties in Margate and Cliftonville are within the No Use Empty Scheme.
2. What are the addresses of properties in Margate and Cliftonville that are part of No Use Empty?
3. How many properties within the scheme have been completed?
4. How many are occupied and subject to Council Tax and/or business rates?
5. How much money has the scheme cost since 2005?
6. How are projects deemed to be a success?
7. How many properties are deemed a success in Margate and Cliftonville?
8. How are property owners and developers brought together within the scheme?
9. How are properties chosen to enter the scheme?
10. How are developers chosen as suitable for the scheme?

Our preferred format to receive this information is by electronic means. If one part of this request can be answered sooner than others, please send that information first followed by any subsequent data. If you need any clarification of this request please feel free to email me. If FOI requests of a similar nature have already been asked could you please include your responses to those requests.

Many public authorities release their contracts with private vendors in line with the Freedom of Information Act. The exemption for commercial interest under the Act (section 43) is a qualified exemption, which means information can only be withheld if it is in the public’s interest. The public have an interest in knowing the terms of contracts and grants awarded by public authorities, whether or not public money changes hands immediately.

If you are relying on section 41 (the exemption for legal breach of confidence) then we would like to know the following:
• When these confidentiality agreements were agreed
• All correspondence and email in which these confidentiality agreements were discussed.
• The precise wording of the confidentiality agreements

We ask these questions because guidance issued by both the Lord Chancellor (draft guidance on FOI implementation) and the Office of Government Commerce (Model terms and conditions for goods and services) specifically state that public authorities should not enter into these types of agreements. They go directly against the spirit of the laws of disclosure. We would also point to the Information Commissioner’s guidance on accepting blanket commercial confidentiality agreements: ‘Unless confidentiality clauses are necessary or reasonable, there is a real risk that, in the event of a complaint, the Commissioner would order disclosure in any case.’

Finally, within the law of confidence there is also a public interest test. Therefore, the information should be disclosed in full. If any parts are redacted they must be for information that can be proven to be a legal breach of confidence in court, and only then where secrecy can be shown to be in the public interest. These are difficult positions to argue when public money is at stake or where a public authority is offering a private company a monopoly to charge its stakeholders.

We would be grateful if you could confirm, in writing, that you have received this request, and we look forward to hearing from you within the 20-working day statutory time period.

Regards

Cliftonville & Margate Future's Group

** Arlington House Residents' Association, Cliftonville Partnership, Cliftonville Residents Assoc, DAAG, Dalby Sq Project, Dane Valley Woods, Godwin Rd, GRASS, Grotto Hill, Hawley Square, Margate Civic Society, Old Town Action Group, Senior Citizens’ Forum, SRAAG, St Paul’s Community Centre

Kent County Council

Dear Cliftonville & Margate Future's Group
Thank you for your request for information.
Kent County Council launched its `No Use Empty' campaign in 2005 as part
of its second round Public Service Agreement (PSA2) commitments to examine
better ways of delivering services, and particularly at working more
effectively with district councils. The primary aim of the Initiative is
to improve the physical urban environment in Kent by bringing empty
properties back into use as quality housing accommodation.

The initial campaign focused on four East Kent districts. Having exceeded
the original targets set, the initiative was expanded to embrace the whole
of Kent and continues to go from strength to strength.

The objective of the initiative is to raise awareness of the issues
surrounding empty housing and the problems they cause to local
communities, and to help reduce the number of long term empties by
bringing them back into use.

No Use Empty supports the existing work carried out by the local councils
to tackle the problem, giving housing officers access to a wider group of
resources, skills and experiences and engaging in a joined-up approach
with Kent County Council and bordering districts to achieve improved
results in returning properties back to use.

Our Partners: Ashford Borough Council, Canterbury City Council, Dartford
Borough Council, Dover District Council, Gravesham Borough Council,
Maidstone Borough Council, Sevenoaks District Council, Shepway District
Council, Swale Borough Council, Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council,
Tunbridge Wells Borough Council.

So, although Kent County Council has some responsibility in this area, and
can answer question 5 (see below), the statistics you are asking for on
empty properties and the information to answer the other questions is held
by the District and Borough Councils in Kent who are responsible for
Housing and the collection of Council Tax and Business Rates. District
Councils are also the Local Planning Authorities for commercial,
industrial or household building works. Therefore, you may wish to
resubmit your request directly to them if you have not already done so.

[1]http://www.kent.gov.uk/your_council/how_...
[2]http://www.kent.gov.uk/your_council/how_...

You may also be interested in details of the Government's Empty Home's
Policy which can be found via the following link:
[3]http://www.communities.gov.uk/housing/ho...

However, with regard to question 5, KCC identified a Capital Fund of £5M
for the Scheme. £3.3million in loans, (from £25,000 to £175,000) have
been awarded to property owners across Kent to date. This has also levered
in £5.7million private sector finance in form of owners contributions to
the local economy, particularly relevant in these turbulent times, where
funding available to owners and developers has been restricted or lending
criteria tightened. All loans offered are secured loans (on the property
being developed in most cases) and once the loan is repaid, the Capital
Fund is replenished. There have been no defaults to date so in this regard
Public Funds are relatively low risk. The Scheme has been operational for
nearly 5 years, costing approximately £958,000. The cost of returning one
unit via Intervention from the Scheme is calculated at approximately
£2,400.

If you are unhappy with this response, and believe KCC has not complied
with legislation, please ask for a review by following our complaints
process; details can be found at this link
[4]http://www.kent.gov.uk/your_council/have...
on our website. Please quote reference FOI/10/0748.

If you still remain dissatisfied following an internal review, you can
appeal to the Information Commissioner, who oversees compliance with the
Freedom of Information Act 2000. Details of what you need to do, should
you wish to pursue this course of action, are available from the
Information Commissioner's website
[5]http://www.ico.gov.uk/complaints/freedom...

Best regards

Caroline Dodge
Corporate Access to Information Coordinator, Chief Executive's Department
Kent County Council, Legal & Democratic Services, Room B.48, Sessions
House, County Hall, Maidstone. ME14 1XQ.
Tel: 01622 221652 - Fax: 01622 696075
[6]http://www.kent.gov.uk/your_council/have...

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