Never say never but …this is quite possibly the last blog I will write on the subject of Beckenham Place Park.
Hooray says Gav!
In addition, I intend shortly to close my original Twitter account which I have used to highlight this issue. Life is too short.
Let me first put it out there that Beckenham Place Park has proved to be a boon for a large number of people during these Covid times and one hopes it will continue. Whether the new demographic of the park is one that Gav and other occupants of Ivory Towers intended is another matter.
It is the case that campaigners against large scale landscape interventions have been proved right in that advertising and promotion of the park, together with the provision of decent basic amenities – toilets, cafe, kids’ play – was all that was needed to bring more people in. One only has to look at how the whole site of the 240 acre park is now being used, not just the small area where grant money was spent, to understand that. It remains my position that this could still have been achieved with retaining the public 18 hole golf course and certainly if it had been reduced to 9 holes instead.
It is also the view of many people that the amount of money spent on the artificial lake, fenced off and guarded, for a small niche audience of outdoor swimmers, could have been better spent on quality landscaping e.g. the existing ornamental garden was not transformed into the much trumpeted 18th Century themed pleasure ground (I’m pretty certain they did not have crazy paving in the 18thCentury). More importantly, a network of good quality new paths could have been provided, instead of the quickly degraded, rutted ones with which we have ended up. Pre-existing paths, neglected, crumbling and degraded for decades, could have been repaired – but continue to crack and crumble even more. However, Ivory Towers knew best.
It remains to be seen how the operation of the fake lake turns out long term, especially when the infrastructure of pumps, filters, liner etc starts to break down. The ropes to the jetty have already had to be replaced last week. The cheapest option and/or cutting corners was counter-productive.
Moving on to the main subject of this blog; in 2016 I agreed to assist a friend in his complaint to Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman against National Lottery Heritage Fund, whose grant enabled Lewisham Council to close the public golf course in order to build their fake lake. In our opinion the evidence of failings by NLHF to properly scrutinise the council’s grant application i.e. taking information (including lies) at face value from the application forms, failure to weigh up the heritage value of the golf course, refusal to engage with informed stakeholders, who had legitimate concerns, bias to the applicant which extended to omitting key, but unfavourable, information from their case papers to Trustees, was overwhelming.
Had I known at the time about the phenomenal website and campaign http://www.phsothetruestory.com I would have declined my friend’s request for assistance. Four years later we have a final report from PHSO which, sadly, lines up with the concerns and overwhelming evidence published on the “true story” website. This is reinforced by the replies left to so many tweets from the following accounts: @PHSOmbudsman, @RobBehrens1884 (Ombudsman) and @phsothefacts i.e. that complaining to PHSO is a disheartening waste of time which leaves one disillusioned and emotionally drained. Insofar as my friend’s complaint is concerned, it is *only* a park, not a person or someone’s loved one who has been badly let down by the NHS. We can easily move on, so many others cannot.
Complaints have to be submitted to PHSO with the prior approval of the complainant’s Member of Parliament; as a rule of thumb, two-thirds of complaints relate to the NHS, one third to other departments. According to the “true story” website:-
“In 2018/19, following investigation, PHSO upheld just 2.4% of all complaints submitted. If resolution without investigation is taken into account this figure rises to 20%. Bear in mind that ‘resolution’ is often an apology from the public body complained about and no more.”
These are quite incredible figures given how difficult it is to get a complaint looked at in the first place. Currently Mr Behrens (Ombudsman) and co are lobbying for complainants to be able to bypass the need for authorisation by their MP, in the guise of making the process easier. Seems to me that it merely gives PHSO increased scope to refuse to take on a complaint or find against the complaint.
Scanning through the replies to PHSO tweets, one comes across these words time and again: lies, collusion, cover ups, corrupt, time waste, lack/no transparency, excuses, bias, inept.
This is another quote from the PHSO true story website:-
“Despite evidence to the contrary, PHSO will always accept the version supplied by the public body and decide that their account is beyond question. They will simply skirt round or totally ignore any evidence that does not match up to this version of events.
The draft report is often full of factual errors and assumptions or accepted as truths. The complainant may spend painstaking hours correcting this draft report only to find the final report is virtually the same.”
As it happens, the experience of my friend and I was a little different in that we were reasonably happy with the draft report … but then, after input from NLHF, it got changed … four times … to arrive at a report that bore hardly any resemblance to the first draft. Indeed, it was not only that the content of the report was radically changed, but also the tone and the style. Whereas the draft report was clear, concise and easy to follow, the final report is inconsistent, contradictory, muddled and over-wordy, which is obviously designed to befuddle readers.
At draft four, in exasperation, we tried reframing our case specifically centred on the Nolan principles of public life i.e. selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership. We provided evidence of how the middle five principles had been breached, but this was dismissed out of hand.
The attitude of PHSO seemed to be that the end result justified the means of getting there i.e. that failings in process could be overlooked because NLHF considered that the application from Lewisham Council met the objectives of their grant scheme. This is contrary to Nolan and particularly so with regards to the issues of honesty and applying the best available evidence.
Amongst their many instances of giving NLHF an easy ride was PHSO’s refusal to consider evidence about two people crucial to the heritage grant. In September 2016, three months before the grant to Lewisham Council was approved by NLHF Trustees, their Chair, Sir Peter Luff, liked the following tweet:-
Not only did Sir Peter show partiality to a tweet linked to a grant yet to be decided (or not, of course – done deal? Nooo) but he had no means of being able to quantify the contents of the tweet. Who was Simon W Smith? Did he work for the applicant – Lewisham Council – no! It was, in fact, a troll account.
Mike Harding, NLHF’s “independent” project manager, has a website in which he advises that he has worked offering technical advice to the heritage fund for 15 years.
Yet, despite NLHF tendering for consultant contracts specifying appropriate qualifications and affiliations to relevant professional bodies, there is nothing on his website to indicate that he has any qualifications or relevant affiliations. And in the 18 months or so that I have been checking his website, his projects page remains under development. Yet, here is a person whose opinion was influential in making the grant and then he went on to oversee Lewisham Council spending it. But jobs for the boys seems beyond PHSO’s remit when examining complaints.
Anyway, I could … and maybe one day will … write a book about the whole debacle of The Lies of the Lake. In the meantime here is the link to PHSO’s final report. Unfortunately I cannot provide a link to the first draft for comparison purposes because I am not allowed to. Mr Plod, or some such, will come knocking if I do. Strange that!