PLEASE NOTE: THIS IS A WORK IN PROGRESS AS WE GO THROUGH EACH POINT OF BRADFORD COUNCIL’S RESPONSE
Below is the Council’s official response to all the people who have complained to them in recent weeks about the proposed demolition of the Odeon, and the Council’s part in the scandal.
Mr Julian Jackson was the case officer assigned to respond to you all. He laid out the main points that people had complained about, and here we will openly address each of these points, using the knowledge of all of the people who have helped with the campaign so far.
As people who have complained about some of these points, you should make note of the things you complained about, and decide for yourself whether you are satisfied with the response from Bradford Council.
If not, we will be advising you on the next step shortly – but it will either be escalating your complaint with the Council, or going over the Council’s heads to the Local Government Ombudsman and letting them know you have complained to the Council and they have failed to satisfy your complaint. If we all do this together, it will have the desired impact.
JULIAN JACKSON v SAVE OUR ODEON
1. The Council in determining the applications has ignored more than 2,000 objections.
MR JACKSON SAYS: I find looking into this matter that all of the objections submitted were reported to Regulatory & Appeals Committee and those making representations were invited to the Committee meeting. All the representations received were included within the report for both applications and were available for inspection by the Committee before they made their decision. I was at the Committee and I witnessed that at least 5 of those objecting were afforded the opportunity to present their case, at length, to the Committee. At the Committee meeting a considerable amount of time was devoted to the public representations submitted and the verbal presentations made. I am fully satisfied that all of the objections to the applications were fully considered in coming to the decision on the applications and no objection was knowingly ignored.
WE SAY: By the end of the representations made, and the site visit, the seven Councillors charged with making the decision indicated there would be a majority vote among them to save the building. At this point, the public objections arguably were being taken into consideration. They then went out of the room for a private consultation with a solicitor who advised them that to vote the ‘wrong’ way could cost the Council a lot of money, if the developers Yorkshire Forward were to appeal against their decision and win. It was at this point that the objections of the public were thrown out of the window in fear of financial reprisal. Yorkshire Forward since said that they would not have appealed, thus making the Committee’s reason for going against public objections null and void. In order to be properly considerate of the public objections, the Committee would need to have gone with their original feelings on the matter. We are also aware that all of those who submitted objections were NOT invited to the meeting, as members of our Facebook group who put forward objections were not invited to put forward representations at the meeting.
2. In the past, the owners of the building / applicants have lied about the state of the interior.
MR JACKSON SAYS: It would be inappropriate for me to comment upon the actions / comments of other parties not directly associated with the Council. However, the Council is on record as stating that the building is in a reasonable structural condition. I attended the Committee and I am fully aware that the Committee made a detailed site inspection of the interior of the building.
The Committee Members, accompanied by a Council Structural Engineer, were able to view the interior of the building. I can confirm that the Committee looked at all areas of the building where the public had made reference to issues in their representations. A member of Bradford Odeon Rescue Group (BORG) also attended the Committee site visit / internal inspection and was able to draw attention to any particular features within the building. The BORG representative was specifically asked at the end of the visit if he was satisfied that the Committee had visited all of the parts of the building necessary to make a decision and he confirmed that he was satisfied that the visit had been properly undertaken.
WE SAY: One of the ‘other parties’ you claim it would be ‘inappropriate’ to comment on is, of course, Bradford Centre Regeneration, and on their board are Councillors Kris Hopkins and Ian Greenwood. As elected representatives they are surely accountable for their actions. Or are you suggesting that actions/comments made under the BCR banner (an organisation partly funded by Bradford Council) are not worthy of the Council’s scrutiny? It would set a dangerous precedent for our democracy if Councillors were able to avoid public scrutiny and accountability by speaking as a board member of a publicly funded quango. These same councillors have also walked out of debates regarding the Odeon stating a clash of interests as they were on the BCR board, thus apparently making them untouchable in their actions and able to escape scrutiny.
Vitally, the BORG member who was apparently ‘satisfied’ with the tour during the Committee meeting on September 23rd has given us this statement:
“I am extremely annoyed at how I have been personally misrepresented within the impersonal response in point two. I was the member of BORG who attended the site visit on September 23rd 2009. To say I was ‘satisfied’ with the tour of the interior is wrong. Upon the advice of someone, Mr Jackson is misleading people.
I was asked by Martin Van Zeller at the end of the site visit (just before we left the building) if I was ‘happy’ with things. I actually said that I wasn’t happy due to the cordoned off debris and general neglect by Yorkshire Forward, which gave a very poor impression of the ticket foyer area immediately upon entry. Considering vast amounts of resources had gone into preparing the site visit with lighting etc, I felt that things like collapsed ceilings and fallen grills should have been tidied away prior to our entry. I also commented that Yorkshire Forward’s longstanding maintenance neglect concerning the cut pipes had probably paid off as the area looked a proper mess.
I specifically wanted the R&A Committee to see the room with the cut pipes in so they could see for themselves the reason for not only the water damaged areas that greeted us immediately upon entry, but also the plantation that is sprouting from the exterior facade wall. In my own representation to the Committee earlier in the day I had quoted PPG15 which states clearly in Section 3.19 “where it is clear that a building has been deliberately neglected in the hope of obtaining consent for demolition, less weight should be given to the costs of repair.” I felt it was crucial for the Committee to see this area.
However, the area where the cut pipes are contained was cordoned off with tape. When I suggested to Martin Van Zeller inside the building that the R&A Committee should have access to the room, I was advised that it was not part of the tour, there was no lighting in there so it was not possible. I was advised prior to the tour that I could not address the Committee directly, and all comments could only be conveyed via Mr Van Zeller so I was not in a position to highlight it to the committee. I took a photo of the doorway to this section of the interior for future reference.
When we were outside the Odeon after the site visit, Councillor Margaret Chadwick openly expressed concerns that the tour did not show the cut pipes.
I immediately highlighted my disappointment to my colleagues in BORG upon my return to City Hall. I also informed several Odeon supporters of this in the Council Chamber on the day of the decision meeting, and on several occasions since. I can further prove my original disatisfaction as I had highlighted it in an earlier email that Councillor David Ward was copied into several weeks ago. This email is still in my outbox.
Therefore, I wish for the record to be set straight regarding my ‘satisfaction’ of the site visit, and for all recipients of this letter to be duly notified of this correction.”
3. Option to retain and renovate the Odeon building was not properly considered by the Council.
MR JACKSON SAYS: As part of the application submissions, the applicant considered four options that involved the part retention of the building, in line with RUDP Policy CT1. It was considered that the cost of retaining and renovating the building outweighed the development value and would therefore not be financially viable. The Council reviewed the options and is of the opinion that the options to retain the building are not financially viable.
The applicants investigated the possibility for leisure purposes. This included the following uses – cinema, bingo hall, boxing, ten pin bowling, health/fitness, cue sports and concert hall. The conclusion being that there is no demand for such leisure facilities within Bradford and every effort to retain the building in use had been made. I find that as part of consideration of the planning application the Council properly reviewed the Leisure Demand Study submitted.
WE SAY: We have seen wildly varying figures for the cost of renovation throughout this process, including some which put renovation at a far lower cost than that of a new build.
Regardless of this, the cost should not be an issue, as you cannot put a price on our heritage. We do not need the city centre park or mirror pool, and as they will be free to use they will not be financially viable either, but millions are being spent on them despite the fact that Bradfordians did not ask for them. Similar investment should be put into the Odeon.
The list of possible uses given is far too narrow and spectacularly unimaginative, considering this is the UK’s last remaining 1930s supercinema right in the centre of the UNESCO City of Film. More could be made of this feature with any thought put into it at all.
However, that there is no demand for the uses you have cited within Bradford is not supported by evidence. Both the Cineworld and Pictureville cinemas in Bradford city centre, as well as the Odeon in Thornbury, are very rarely quiet. The queues outside the Mecca bingo hall in Little Horton Lane suggest similarly. Boxing nights held at the Hilton Hotel and St George’s Hall frequently attract large audiences. There are also at least three cue sports halls within the city centre. The Leisure Demand Study undertaken by Colliers CRE was, at best, cursory. It discounted the building’s reuse as a concert hall merely on the basis that two (just two!) national operators were not interested in operating it as such. This is hardly a comprehensive viability study.
And if there really is ‘no demand’ for an additional larger concert hall, then why therefore are Bradford Council looking to purchase the T&A building and extend the listed St George’s Hall, as documents on our site can prove?
You also refer to the ‘four options’ that were considered, one of which you may recall was a ‘winning design’ from a public consultation run by the Council in conjunction with BCR. The eventual building given planning consent was then so heavily revised that it bears no resemblance to the building that ‘won’ the public competition. Therefore, we believe that the public consultation exercise was completely ignored by the planning committee. In light of that we would be interested in your thoughts regarding the use of public money to fund a consultation that proved to be worthless?
4. Part of the Committee meeting was held in private and this is unacceptable
MR JACKSON SAYS: It is not uncommon that a planning committee determines that it needs to take legal and other professional advice in private and indeed there are clear rules that the Council need to adhere to concerning this matter as set out by central government.
It is a matter of public record that in order to receive advice on issues raised by Members of the Committee to receive specific legal advice on matters associated with the planning and conservation consent applications. I was present during this part of the meeting and I can confirm that the members were not permitted to debate the merits of approving or refusing the application and the decision to grant consent for both applications was not taken in the ‘exempt session’. I am satisfied that the decision to approve both applications was correctly taken during that part of the meeting with was held in public and that no undue pressure was placed on any of the members of the Committee to grant the applications whilst in the non-public part of the meeting.
WE SAY: This part of the meeting cannot be underplayed, as it was the point at which the decision swung from retention of the building, based on public objections, to a decision to approve demolition, based on a financial threat which was later proven non-existent. Whether it is commonplace or not, it was the only part of the meeting which eventually mattered, and it was done behind closed doors, and all for reasons which later proved to be null and void.
We find that difficult to accept given the sudden turn around in the voting intentions of the committee. We propose two points, that the minutes of that part of the meeting be made public and secondly that, as the private part of the meeting had such a dramatic impact on the outcome of the application, that the whole process has become invalidated and the application should be reheard and entirely in public.
In addition, and in answer to your point about ‘no undue pressure’ being put on the Councillors, the chair of the Committee (Cllr Ellis) openlly admitted it in the T&A days later:
“English Heritage backed us into a corner. We took legal advice and had to give consideration to the cost of an appeal if we had turned the plans down. We were advised that given the support from English Heritage, if we were to refuse the plans, then an appeal was bound to succeed and it could have cost the Council hundreds of thousands of pounds. Basically our hands were tied. We were looking for a reason we could give for retaining the Odeon, but it all hinged on the one issue.”
This sounds like a great deal of pressure which was applied in this private meeting, in complete contradiction to your claims.
The news story in question:
5. Yorkshire Forward wouldn’t sue if the application was refused
MR JACKSON SAYS: In the event of the applications being refused, the joint applicants would have had the option of appealing against the refusal. There was no question of Yorkshire Forward suing the Council and this is not a material planning consideration and was not a matter considered by the Committee in making their decision.
WE SAY: Some members of the public not expected to be experts in the intricacies of council business, but who have complained to the Council, have understandably got mixed up with their legal terminology and referred to Yorkshire Forward ‘suing’ the Council when they were obviously referring to Yorkshire Forward potentially ‘appealing’ the decision and winning financial compensation from the Council. This is irrelevant, as we all know that the bottom line is that Yorkshire Forward could have cost the Council a lot of money if they had not been happy to accept the Committee’s decision.
However, they have, since the decision meeting, said that they would NOT have done this, thus making the decision made in fear completely needless. If this were such an important consideration, one so important that it actually swung the Committee completely, then would it not have been wise to investigate in advance the likelihood of this happening. Yorkshire Forward were so keen to point out their unwillingness to cost the Council any money in an appeal that they appeared in the T&A following the decision, saying just that.
This cannot be underplayed, it is THE SINGLE REASON that the final decision was reached.
6. There is no asbestos in the building and pipes have previously been cut which have led to the premature deterioration of the building.
MR JACKSON SAYS: The Council have studied reports submitted about the condition of the building and specialist council officers have visited the building over a number of years. The presence of asbestos within the building has been confirmed as being limited to the basement. The Council has no knowledge of who may have damaged the internal pipes referred to in the representations submitted. This is a matter that would need to be taken up with the building owners. However, both of these matters were not in any way reasons why the Regulatory and Appeals Committee determined to grant the two applications. I therefore remain satisfied that these issues are not relevant to the planning merits of the applicants.
WE SAY: Whilst it is the owners’ responsibility to keep the building in repair, the Council have powers under both Building Regulations and Planning legislation to take enforcement action against negligent proprietors. However, the Council failed to take any enforcement action within its power since the matter of cut pipes was brought to the public’s attention several years ago by BORG. You state that ‘it should be taken up with the buildings owner’. Can we ask why Bradford Council have not indeed taken this up with the buildings owner – the quango Yorkshire Forward, with whom the Council has a very close working relationship? We require an explanation as to why the Council’s Planning and Building Regulations divisions have failed to intervene, especially given the building’s location in a conservation area.
In addition, Bradford Centre Regeneration were the ones who made false claims about the interior state of the building, and as Councillors Eaton (then Council Leader) and Greenwood were on the board at that time, they are directly involved.
Regarding Yorkshire Forward, a quango funded by the public purse,their actions and comments should be available for scrutiny otherwise our democracy is undermined. They, and Bradford Centre Regeneration, have continually referred to asbestos within the building and given this as a reason to refuse access to BORG, however, as you note it is in fact restricted to the basement and will have to be dealt with whether the building is refurbished or demolished. The asbestos which remains is non-hazardous, but has been continually cited as a health hazard despite the Odeon being no more dangerous in this respect than any other building over 25 years old. In fact, when BORG asked to enter the building, they were told they would need special safety training in order to do so, and at great cost. Yet on the day of the decision meeting, the Committee were allowed into the building without any such training, and these were members of the Council going in without supposedly vital training.
7. The Council lost objections submitted by the public
MR JACKSON SAYS: It is on record that a very small number of letters of objection were misplaced by the Council. The Chief Executive of the Council made a full apology for this and steps were put in place to ensure that all objections received were recorded. In the case of the misplaced letters, duplicate letters were sought and received and the comments were received well in time for these to be recorded in the Committee report. Indeed, in the case of the letter from BORG there was a specific section in the officers report that set out the full objections received.
WE SAY: If the applications were indeed ‘lost’ how can you state that ‘duplicate letters were sought and received’? If they were ‘lost’ how can you know that everyone was contacted? They were either lost, or they were not lost. Could you provide examples of people who were contacted following their lost objections? Please bear in mind that, whilst the Chief Executive of the Council did make a full apology in the T&A, this was only after BORG had realised by looking at the subsequent report that their objections were not included in it, and it was in fact BORG and not the Council who made this matter public in the first instance. Did the Council or did the Council not know that letters had been lost before this point? And if not, why not?
8. Availability of minutes after the Committee meeting.
MR JACKSON SAYS: I have looked into this matter in detail. I find that the Minutes of the Committee meeting are available on the Council’s website and were produced in accordance with normal procedures of the Council, including meeting requirements that they be available within set timescales.
WE SAY: The minutes were not available within the usual timescales, and minutes from the meeting following the Odeon decision meeting were available well before the minutes from the decision meeting, indicating an unusual delay in their availability. Many of us witnessed the minutes from this subsequent meeting go up, then come down again following a phone call from one of our campaigners to ask why the decision meeting minutes were not yet up. In addition, there are no minutes available for the meeting which was held in private as part of this Committee meeting – ie the only part of the meeting which ultimately mattered, and the part which we should be entitled to see, considering its importance. All the Bradfordians who turned out to that Committee meeting to see the decision being made in public, as it should have been, were denied the opportunity to see democracy in action over something that should have had total transparency, because of the secrecy surrounding this part of the meeting.
9. Inadequate surveys were carried out of the site / building and submitted.
MR JACKSON SAYS: Looking into this matter I find that the planning application was submitted with numerous surveys and specialist studies to cover a whole raft of material planning considerations. Each one of the submitted surveys / studies was critically analysed by professionals within the Council and where appropriate a report was completed to either agree with or comment upon the information supplied by the applicants. In particular I find that a survey was undertaken in 2008 to assess the structural condition of the entire building. The survey found a number of defects with the recommendations that the towers were repaired; the facade was re-pointed; and vegetation was removed. In 2009, a second survey, of specifically the towers and facade, was undertaken. This survey was used, in consideration of the case for the retention of the towers and facade, in addressing the requirements of Policy CT1 of the Council’s Replacement Unitary Development Plan.
WE SAY: Coming soon…
10. There has been a demonstration held by supporters of the Odeon, linked to the English Defence League demonstration, this after the decision was made by the Regulatory and Appeals Committee.
MR JACKSON SAYS: The Council has no record of any communication between the Council and the Chamber of Commerce on this allegation and in any event according to the information submitted by the complainant this took place after the Regulatory and Appeals Committee meeting and outside the consultation period for making representations to the Council for these applications. The procedures for making representations on applications are well publicised and accord with government guidance; representations should be made in writing usually within the specified time period given and certainly before the date of the Committee meeting. On this matter I find that the demonstration noted above cannot be taken to accord with this criteria and I therefore do not intend to comment further on this matter.
WE SAY: Complaints made about the email linking the protest to the English Defence League were made not to the Planning Department specifically, but to the Council as a whole, and so saying that the protest itself took place outside the time period for objections and that you as a member of the Planning department are not duty bound to comment is totally irrelevant as a defence of this action. Complaints made to you about this are not about the protest being ignored or its lack of effect on the outcome etc, they are about the link made between the protest and the EDL.
The fact remains that we know that an email went out linking the protest to the EDL, and complaining to the Council as a whole about this is absolutely within our rights. We fail to see how pointing out that the protest took place outside the timeframe given for objections is anything to do with this matter at all, and as a response this is bizarre. If, within your particular job role, you are unable to pass comment on this matter, then find someone in the Council who can. It is our understanding from sympathetic Council workers themselves that this email certainly did go out, and as soon as we are able to ask for it in the specific wording obviously required for Freedom of Information to hand it over, we will do so. Responses we have had from FOI on this matter have been so specific in their wording of sender, recipient and department as to indicate that we must also be as specific in order to get our hands on a copy, which we will.
11. English Heritage did a u-turn on the issue of demolition.
MR JACKSON SAYS: I would comment firstly that the Council is not in a position to comment on behalf of the actions or a decision of English Heritage. However, it is a public record that English Heritage submitted to the Council a formal letter of objection to the Odeon development based upon the original plans submitted. The English Heritage objection was based on the adverse impact the proposal would have on the character of the conservation area and an adjacent listed building (Alhambra Theatre). This was for a number of reasons, including primarily scale and design of the proposed new buildings. It is further a public record that after many months of discussion with the Council and English Heritage revised plans were submitted by the applicants, this for a scheme which included a building of reduced scale and of significantly different design. The records show that English Heritage determined that the revised scheme overcame the reasons why they had originally objected and on that basis, subject to conditions, they felt able to support the proposal.
WE SAY: Coming soon…
12. The Council or Committee had already decided what would happen with the building before the formal decision was made.
MR JACKSON SAYS: The Council rules that govern the conduct of members of the Regulatory and Appeals Committee specifically prevent a councillor taking part in the decision making process (the Regulatory and Appeals Committee) if they have already made a decision on how they would determine an applications. As with all planning committee meetings Members were asked to declare if they had previously been involved in any aspect of these applications such that it may prejudices (sic) in any way them taking an unbiased decision. I attended the Committee and witnessed the conduct of Members and I remain satisfied that they complied at all times with the Council’s Code of Conduct on how applications should be considered. Looking at this matter in detail it is clear that the officers report whilst recommending approval for both applications was completely balanced in how it reported all the material planning considerations and objections submitted by the public and other consultees. In addition to this I am mindful that at the beginning of the meeting the Chair of the Committee reminded all present about the role of the Committee and the requirements to consider applications based on planning policies, material planning issues and upon sound judgments of the facts as presented by officers, consultees and those making representations.
WE SAY: Coming soon…