A LONG-AWAITED report into the Cotswold Water Park Society (CWPS) has found a series of failures within Gloucestershire County Council.

Information uncovered during the investigation by independent investigator Graham Garbutt has also been passed to City of London Police’s economic crime division, leaving open the potential for further development in the long-running saga.

Among the report’s findings are that the controversial sub-lease of Keynes Country Park by CWPS to property developers Watermark gave the company much greater rights over the site than the Society had the authority to give.

Although the Society’s lease of the site from GCC stated it was only to be used for leisure activities, the lease to Watermark abandoned this clause, potentially giving scope for development.

Although consent for the agreement was granted by GCC under the system of delegated powers, which complied with the council’s policies, Mr Garbutt said in the report that no financial advice was sought, and there was no evidence that any consultation took place regarding the agreement.

“I have searched paper and electronic files for evidence of this process but have been unable to find anything relevant,” he said.

“It is problematic that one file, or perhaps a set of files, relating to the Cotswold Water Park is apparently missing from property service records.”

The report also criticises the authority’s failure to act on complaints made to the council by Cotswold District Councillor Esmond Jenkins (Lib Dem, Water Park) around the lease were not properly acted upon.

The report, which was published on Friday last week and presented to GCC’s Audit Committee on Monday morning, was the result of a six-month investigation, in which Mr Garbutt interviewed 60 people, including former CWPS chief Dennis Grant, who is currently serving a four-year, four-month prison sentence for defrauding the organisation of more than £660,000.

He also praised Cotswold Water Park Trust operations director Tasha Flaherty for her role in uncovering Grant’s fraud.

Mr Garbutt said his investigation had ruled out any influence by the Freemasons within GCC or the CWPS.

“In the absence of evidence to the contrary I suggest that those interested in the Water Park’s future focus their energies on more tangible and positive issues,” he said in the report.

Concluding, Mr Garbutt said a clearer vision for the future of the Water Park is needed for it to achieve its aims.

“Past arrangements have failed to achieve many of the aims of the Water Park's creators and local confidence has been further weakened by the existence of criminality,” he said.

“The existence of criminality was extremely unfortunate, but more effective supervision could have reduced this risk or dealt with it earlier.”

To this end, Mr Garbutt has suggested that the Cotswold Water Park Joint Committee, which is due to be disbanded, be replaced with a joint board with representatives from a range of interested parties.

“Unlike the Joint Committee it should include private landowners and investors, community and environmental representatives, the media and others, as well as senior elected representatives,” he said in the report.

“If you look at a map of the area all you see is a lot of field-shaped lakes with nothing in between them and it seems to me that that’s a minor tragedy.

“This is an area that could have been so much more and, with a bit of civil engineering, it could be something really very attractive.”

The members of the audit committee will review the report and will consider the next step at their meeting on April 13.

The full report can be viewed under the Related Links tab to the right of this page.