Thursday, 28 July 2011

Where the only thing being parked is the truth

My earlier post on the Bonnyrigg Rose car park issue left off with the council's audit report being released in private to its Audit committee. I have since managed to see the report and it does not make pleasant reading for the council, or I imagine for Audit Scotland who I understand are taking a keen interest. It is now almost a year since the original investigation started and the public is still no nearer being told the truth, with the council continuing to decline to comment "while an investigation is under way".

Parts of the report cover the handling of contractual, financial and tendering arrangements, the release of which may potentially prejudice the ongoing police inquiry, so I will avoid commenting on that. However, much of it does not, focusing on the council's failings and the withholding of this information is not in the public interest.

The report not only criticises the handling of this particular grant application, but slates the council for its overall management of the Gourlaw fund, stating "controls over the administration of the Community Fund and in particular the award of £37,500 to BRAJFC were inadequate". Not only did the council break an agreement whereby adequate publicity should be given to all successful grant applications but it basically hasn't got a clue how much is in the fund or how much is due in from Scottish Coal. Adequate reasons were not given as to why requests were approved or declined and technical advice was not sought in arriving at the decisions. The council should also have received funds relating to the extraction of fireclay, but no records exist for this.

On the car park itself, a good part of the car park area is owned by neighbours Bonnyrigg Rose Social Club, which the report says "were never consulted on any developments regarding the car park and on checking their title deeds it appears that they should have been consulted on any developments to any of their land".

The car park is deemed "not fit for purpose" by the council, not least because it fails to meet the requirements of the 1995 Disability Act regarding access and markings, and the total value of work completed amounts to little over £40,000. The appendix compiled by surveyors for the council on the technical appraisal of the car park is scathing, although it doesn't take a professional to conclude that what we've got falls far short of most people's idea of a public car park. It describes the surface material as of very poor quality and too contaminated even to be used as sub-surface material.

An interesting aside to all this is a flurry of letters in the Midlothian Advertiser (including one with 'Address withheld', from someone those connected with the club have never heard of) which have a common theme, accusing 'critics' (i.e. me) of continually attacking the club. Anyone who has followed this closely will know I have not attacked the club anywhere, but have so far focussed my attention on the council, in the light of the evidence I have. The letters all point to the work having been done (clearly not true, according to the report - with the main access point currently barred), or "other work carried out, within the grounds of the club" - an irrelevance according to the council's report, which says they were not detailed in the invoices they have obtained.

This is not  the first time my political opponents - or opponent to be precise, as I know exactly who he is - have played this game. A few years ago, a remarkably similar set of letters appeared in The Advertiser when I criticised the council for its very short public consultation period on the Bonnyrigg town centre improvements. The letters uncannily all accused me of wanting to stop the project in its tracks.

Why such pains are being taken to try to discredit my investigation is not clear, but someone is certainly trying hard and I want to know why. Politics is a dirty business in Midlothian, as I found last year at the receiving end of an abusive phone call from a councillor, and during the course of my investigations, associations and links have come to light which belie claims which have been made in public.

Perhaps one day the truth will out. Perhaps it won't, and maybe that's as it's aye been in these parts.