Lancaster residents ‘punished’ for asking too many questions

St George's Mill in St George's Quay, Lancaster
St George's Mill in St George's Quay, Lancaster

Two Lancaster residents have spoken out after being branded “unreasonably persistent complainants” by the city council.

Bob McKitrick and Stephen Loxam say they have been ignored, defamed, and denied a proper hearing by some council officers and councillors in what they call “commonalities” in their issues.

Mr Loxam was given the title on December 20 2017 and Mr McKitrick on November 8 2017 by Lancaster City Council’s Head of Legal and Governance, who left the council in February after less than five months in post.

Mr Loxam says he has a list of alleged problems with the council spanning more than a decade including that it has misused public money, made false representations, failed to follow standard procedure and been “generally unhelpful” in its dealings with him.

Carnforth Coun Peter Yates has repeated calls for a barrister led enquiry into Mr Loxam’s case, adding: “He’s persistent because he’s not getting any answers. To bring this matter to a head we need a barrister led enquiry.”

Mr Loxam alleges the council owes him £5m in compensation as part of a land deal that turned sour in St George’s Quay, and says the council has spent around £16m on Luneside East since 2005 with a further £29,899 on legal fees in 2016/17, and it was “about time someone answered some questions”. He also claims the council has breached contracts, concealed information and misled councillors over the deal to buy Lord Ashton’s famous linoleum mill and redevelop the site for housing.

Mr Loxam’s family had owned the St George’s Works mill since 1948. The cost of court battles have resulted in Mr Loxam’s company Thomas Newall Ltd being placed into adminstration.

The council said in October 2017 that the case has already been considered by the court of appeal and dismissed.

The two men also have concerns over the provision of 70 affordable homes on the site which had been given planning permission, and, Mr McKitrick says, funding, several years ago.

The site now has planning permission for student flats.

Mr McKitrick said: “In my correspondence with all within Lancaster City Council over years I’ve repeatedly said that I stand to be corrected, prepared to have matters resolved at the lowest level of formality and referred to some officers and some councillors so as to differentiate between the arguably poorer ones and the good ones committed to genuine public service and accountability in line with the Seven Nolan Principles of Public Life, which are ‘Selflessness, Integrity, Objectivity, Accountability, Openness, Honesty and Leadership’.”

Mr McKitrick said that all their concerns can be backed up with hard evidence in relation to specific officer misconduct, and claims that council leader Eileen Blamire has ignored attempts to seek resolution “at the lowest level of formality”.

Coun Blamire said: “Whenever I’ve raised it, I’ve always been reassured that there isn’t a case to answer.”

She said she did not wish to comment on whether a barrister led enquiry should be launched.

In August 2017, eleven councillors, including Coun Blamire, asked not to be included in any further email correspondence with Mr Loxam. Mr McKitrick also says the two men have had “entitlements to invoke Pre-action Protocol for Defamation” ignored.

City council chief executive Susan Parsonage, said the council is unable to comment on individual cases, but added: “Whilst the council welcomes genuine complaints and will always act to use them to improve services, it also has a duty to effectively manage public funds by ensuring resources expended on handling complaints are proportionate. Where a complainant has had their issue resolved but refuses to accept the findings, repeatedly argues over points with no new evidence and submits repeated complaints on the same basic issue, the council may consider them to be unreasonably persistent or vexatious. This will result in contact being limited to matters about services provided to them as council tax payers.”

She said the action isn’t taken lightly but it is important that resources are not tied up for an inordinate amount of time “dealing with repeated complaints on matters that have already been resolved.”

Both Mr McKitrick and Mr Loxam say matters have not been resolved.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), which is the UK’s independent authority set up to uphold information rights in the public interest and promote openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals, has told Mr Loxam that she is recommending that Lancaster City Council undertakes a review of how it handled a number of Freedom of Information requests submitted by Mr Loxam in 2017.