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Basildon Council cleared on golf course action
Basildon Council has been cleared of corruption over its handling of the town’s golf course redevelopment.
However, the authority was criticised by district auditor, Debbie Hanson, over the deal drawn up to lease the course to a private company.
In her report, it is revealed the council lent the company running the course, Jack Barker Ltd, £60,000 to build a road to take thousands of tonnes of rubble to the site, even though it would have been illegal to import the spoil.
The council loaned the money in December 2009, even though Barker’s licence for spoil to be brought on to the site had expired nearly a year earlier.
Officers handed over the money before the end of a court battle between them and campaign group Friends of Basildon Golf Course. The group wanted to stop the use of building rubble and soil being brought in to redesign the course to fund a £1million clubhouse and driving range and the privatisation of the course.
Mrs Hanson investigated complaints made by the campaign group.
She concluded: “I have identifed a number of areas for improvement in the council’s governance arrangements and decision-making processes relating to the golf course disposal and the subsequent financial assistance provided by the council.
“These are not so significant, however, as to warrant formal action on my part. I have not, in particular, identified any illegality or fraud or corruption.”
In her report, it was also revealed the council supported Jack Barker with a total of £234,000 in free rent and other subsidies, including the loan, during the court clash.
The auditor concluded councillors who first agreed to lease the course to Jack Barker in 2005 had no idea its business plan was to import the spoil and therefore gave no consideration to possible environmental and financial impacts during the tender process.
It also emerged councillors were not informed of the full cumulative cost of support to the company, nor given clear reason for the actions, an officer waived a £6,000 bill for hiring maintenace equipment without any councillors being informed and there was no initial risk assessment done to deal with problems which arose.
Basildon Council said it had since reviewed its decision-making, procurement and planning processes.
Another company is temporarily running the course while its future is decided.