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Audit Commission
Audit Commission, 16 South Park, Sevenoaks, Kent, TN13 1AN
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1 August 2007
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Thanet District Council
Further to my letter 13 February 2007 we have now concluded our review of the issues you raised with us at our meeting. This has been carried out to coincide with the timing of our routine audit. The letter identified four specific items we agreed to pursue. These are detailed below with comment on our findings in each area.
1. Section 106 Agreement
“The S106 agreement between Thanet DC and Infratil as the airport operator should provide a framework to monitor noise pollution issues and night flying and includes a schedule of penalties should breaches occur. Breaches should be brought to the attention of the Kent International Airport Consultative Committee (KIACC) who benefit from the penalty fines enabling it to address community issues.
Your records suggest that this is not the case due to the lack of rigour in terms of noise monitoring by Infratil and alleged failings by the Council to enforce the conditions of the agreement.
It was agreed that this matter would be raised with the Council by the District Auditor as part of the current audit. I also acknowledge that you are dealing with the Ombudsman on this matter.”
Our findings are as follows:
The S106 planning agreement is a voluntary agreement between the Council and the airport operator, which was established in 2000 and is still the extant agreement with the current airport operator Infratil. Our discussion with officers and our review of records has identified that the current activity at the airport is relatively low. As a result the Council has adopted a proportionate approach to monitoring that balances the interests of the community against the Council’s aim to see the airport develop. You will appreciate that for such a level of activity the Council could not justify the expenditure required to implement a comprehensive system of monitoring and I see no reason to challenge this judgement.
T 0844 798 1350 F 0844 798 1399
We have discussed the current arrangements with the Council and officers have agreed to strengthen the arrangements for noise monitoring and fines through the use of independent review of Infratil’s source data. This work will be completed by the East Kent Internal Audit Consortium and publicly reported through the Council’s Governance and Audit Committee.
In relation to night flight activity we have also identified arrangements in place to invoke the penalty tariff stipulated in the S106 agreement, and again the source data to support these penalties will be independently reviewed.
In my view, this adequately responds to your earlier concerns about the lack of rigour and enforcement of the s106 agreement without being disproportionate and I will monitor the implementation of this as part of my routine audit.
2. Environmental risk
“We also discussed your concern that the S106 agreement and the Council’s own risk management arrangements did not adequately protect the Council in the event of either a catastrophic accident or an environmental accident.
The District Auditor also agreed to follow this matter up as part of the current audit.”
Our findings are as follows:
Consideration of catastrophic accidents or environmental accidents fall under the Council’s duties in consideration of the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 and are not legally required to be considered in S106 planning agreements. Our review of Council arrangements under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 identified that it has a Major Emergency Plan that covers air accidents. The major emergency plan also has links to a Housing Emergency Plan, Information Unit Plan, Environmental Service Emergency Plan, Coastal Protection Oil Pollution Plan, Coastal Protection Storm Tide Flood Plan and a Ramsgate Royal Harbour Emergency Plan.
The Council has agreed that it will look to strengthen the links between its own Major Emergency Plan, those of other emergency responders and Infratil’s emergency arrangements that are required by the Civil Aviation Authority. I am therefore satisfied that there is no action for me to take in relation to this point.
3. Consultation with KIACC
“We agreed that alongside the S106 agreement, the KIACC was also important in ensuring accountability and allowing the community to have a voice. However you were concerned that it was not effective and the governance arrangements were not clear.
The District Auditor also agreed to consider this as part of the current audit with a view to assessing whether, in her view, consultation arrangements were effective and actions transparent.”
Our findings are as follows:
The responsibility for establishing appropriate community liaison arrangements is vested in the Civil Aviation Act 1982 and guidance associated with that Act indicates that this can be achieved through a consultative committee. The requirement, reinforced through the S106 agreement, has led to the formation of Kent International Airport Consultative Committee (KIACC). Our review found that information regarding all aspects of the Committee’s functions and work is readily accessible via its web site. We can find no evidence that the current arrangements lack transparency.
4. Collection of unpaid fines
“You provided evidence of night flying activity alongside allegations that penalty fines were a) not being identified due to Infratil’s alleged failure to record aircraft registration numbers; and b) weaknesses in debt collection procedures. The sum quoted was £24,000 and it was agreed that this sum was not material to the audit and therefore would not be pursued.
Furthermore, it was unclear whether the funds were part of KIACC as the accountable body or part of Thanet DC accounts. It was agreed that this would be checked and the District Auditor will advise you of the accounting and audit arrangements. I note that you propose to pursue this separately with the Police.”
Our findings are as follows:
As a result of the S106 agreement Thanet District Council acts as the accountable body and is responsible for the collection of fines and redistribution to the local community in accordance with KIACC instructions. As we are not the appointed auditor for KIACC we have no remit to consider the governance and accounting arrangements of KIACC. In relation to Thanet District Council my interest relates solely to ensuring that debts in relation to fines have been properly accounted for and collected.
For the financial year 2006/07 we have found that all debts arising have been paid and the money collected arising from night flight fines has been correctly accounted for in the Statement of Accounts. The money retained by the Council on behalf of KIACC is correctly included as a liability in its year-end accounts. As I am satisfied that the Council has discharged its responsibilities in relation to accounting for the fines, I do not propose to consider this further.
If KIACC was to be constituted as a Charitable or other Trust then responsibility for the monitoring of activity, raising of debt and the collection of fines would pass to the Committee.
Based on the findings of our work, as set out above, I am of the view that your concerns have been satisfactorily addressed and there are actions in hand to improve specific issues. We have a meeting scheduled for 3rd August, and I will be happy to discuss these findings further at that time.
Yours sincerely
District Auditor