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An Unlifting Letter from Councillor Bliss...

Shepway Council Leader Robert Bliss is sending out a letter to people writing to him calling on the Cabinet to ensure at their 15th April meeting that the Council keeps the Folkestone Leas Lift running.

I'm interested in his reply and reproduce the main sections below, and have added a few comments of my own:

"The issue of the Leas Lift has been making headlines over the last few weeks."

  • Really Robert?

"What most people don't realise is that the council does NOT want to see the lift close and would be happy to support any future operator in any way it could."

  • Then the Cabinet simply doesn't know what is is doing. The minutes of the Cabinet meeting of 18th March (available at http://www.shepway.gov.uk/webapp/service/query/cads/doc/cabinet/Minutes%20%20Public/mcabt20090318.doc?download=download) give the recommendations as:
  • 1. To receive and note Report C/08/106.
  • 2. To cease the operation of the Leas Lift with immediate effect.
  • 3. To authorise the Legal and Democratic Services Manager to serve the minimum statutory notice on the Radnor Estate pursuant to Section 27 Landlord and Tenant Act 1954 terminating the Leas Lift Lease.
  • 4. To authorise the Legal and Democratic Services Manager to settle any forthcoming dilapidations claim following consultation with the Cabinet Member for Asset Management.
  • 5. That a report be taken to Council on the financial implications of the closure of the Leas Lift.
  • Look at 2 and 5. If Cabinet didn't want to see the lift close at that meeting, those recommendations should not be there. If its all about the lease, then there was NO NEED to decide "To cease the operation of the Leas Lift with immediate effect."

"The lift costs the council £90,000 a year to operate but it brings in only £30,000."

  • As would most businesses operated without a business plan, or any serious attempt to increase visitor numbers to the lift. Have Shepway run the lift well? No. Should they have submitted a lottery / funding application? Yes. Could it be run better and make less of a loss / break-even / turn a profit in the right hands? Yes. But even beyond that, there are two other points:
  • It's always cost money - since they took it on in 1968. So does maintaining parks, cleaning streets, emptying bins - it's a SERVICE.
  • The drop in visitor numbers is at least in part due to the closure of the fun fair decreasing the number of people going from up-town Folkestone to the Harbour area. If only someone had a MasterPlan to regenerate the Harbour, then there may be lots of good reasons to go down there, and in a few years time, the lift would have significantly more traffic...

"However, operating and maintenance costs were not the only things that influenced Cabinet's decision to stop operating the lift and to end the lease from the lift owners, the Radnor Estate."

"Cabinet had to look at a range of issues that were, and remain, commercially confidential and therefore were not able to be shared with the public. The confidential report to Cabinet included lease arrangements that, had decision to end the lease not been taken, would have placed onerous and significant financial obligations on the council."

  • They had a lease. They are still responsible for the obligations of that lease for the time they held it. Period.

"The Corporate Scrutiny Committee looked at the issue of the Leas Lift on Tuesday 31 March. It has referred back to Cabinet the decision to immediately cease operating the lift and has urged Cabinet to seek its continued operation for this year and beyond."

  • It did. Because the Cabinet had made the decision to cease operating the lift. The very thing they now say they really had no intention of doing.

"Corporate Scrutiny Committee did not refer the decision to terminate the lease back to Cabinet. On this basis, the current lease of the Leas Lift will end on 30 June 2009. Cabinet may consider the potential for a new, less onerous, lease when it meets to discuss the committee's resolution on 15 April."

  • It was made quite clear by the Chief Executive throughout the meeting that if the Council wishes to, there are ways to ensure the lift keeps running despite the termination on the lease.