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Waveney: Businessman calls for apology

PUBLISHED: 11:37 14 August 2009 | UPDATED: 11:31 06 July 2010

A LEADING businessman is demanding an apology from council leaders over a campaign to keep public access on Lowestoft's seafront.

Mervyn Lambert has spent more than £40,000 paying for the public's legal challenges over Waveney District Council's proposals to dispose of its caravan park at North Denes.

A LEADING businessman is demanding an apology from council leaders over a campaign to keep public access on Lowestoft's seafront.

Mervyn Lambert has spent more than £40,000 paying for the public's legal challenges over Waveney District Council's proposals to dispose of its caravan park at North Denes.

The Audit Commission has criticised the council for spending nearly £350,000 on legal costs and councillors have now approved a raft of measures aimed at preventing the authority from facing spiralling legal costs in the future.

A government investigation revealed that a lack of control over spending on advice from solicitors had landed Waveney District Council with a legal bill for nearly £350,000 to defend proposals to sell off two caravan parks.

An Audit Commission report into the council's payments to lawyers during the saga about attempts to offload caravan parks at North Denes, Lowestoft, and at Southwold Harbour, to private operators concluded that the authority did not fully consider whether continuing with the proposals offered value for money for council tax payers.

Mr Lambert has been criticised by leading councillors but believes the Audit Commission report has justified his actions and those of local residents who were also opposed to the proposals.

“We welcome the District Auditor's report for Waveney District Council has publicly attempted to discredit our campaign for openness and democracy by claiming we have been responsible for the horrendous cost to the local tax payer.

“However, the damning report is clear in its criticism of Waveney District Council's many failures during the process, yet finds no fault with the public's campaign,” said Mr Lambert.

The businessman had offered to pay the legal costs of the council and sponsor next year's Lowestoft air show if the public campaign had been found accountable.

“I was prepared to pay more than one-third of a million pounds on this issue and now the council have been found responsible leading councillors should now offer me and others opposed to these proposals a public apology,” he said.

The report, which was discussed by the council's audit and risk management committee on Monday, said the council should have exerted more control over spending on external legal advice, which reached a total of £348,000 after public opposition on issues concerning ownership and access to the sites.

Councillors unanimously approved the recommendations outlined in the report at the meeting.

Of the nine recommendations that have been made by the commission investigators, including drawing up a formal process for incurring legal costs and obtaining detailed forecasts of costs before commissioning legal advice, six have already been put in place by the council and the other three are due to be adopted by this autumn.

The council's assistant chief executive Arthur Charvonia told councillors: “I think the lesson we have learned, which is reflected in the recommendations and comments as well, is to make sure we keep a closer eye on these things as they move through.”

Waveney council is seeking a new private operator for the North Denes site after a holiday firm pulled out of a deal.

Labour leader on the council, John Shanahan, said: “It was Labour councillors who first brought the spiralling legal costs to the attention of the public and the Audit Commission.

“We still believe the council has not learned the right lesson as it is still proposing to dispose of the caravan site to a private operator.”


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