THE Cotswold District Council appears set to approve a proposal by Lord Bathurst to increase Cirencester by 40 percent by building 2,350 houses on land at the edge of Cirencester. 

One would like to think that the council would have established ownership of the land. It is after all not a secret. The Earl Bathurst told the Standard (July 23, 2015) that land for the proposed Chesterton development is held by a trust registered in Bermuda, so that Bathurst Development could avoid paying capital gains tax. He justified this tax avoidance saying that when the avoided tax is spread across the UK to the Outer Hebrides “it won’t be very much.”

The Conservative-led council had a choice. It could have referred to UK regulations and its own internal guidance which allows proposals to be rejected for non-payment of UK tax. It could have asked for the land to be transferred to a UK company or trust. Instead it did nothing and has continued to consider the proposal and work with Bathurst Development on its proposal. It has spent public money in doing so.

This approach is strange as the Prime Minister Theresa May, and her predecessor, promised to crackdown on corporate and personal tax avoidance. “The Conservative government is committed to take vigorous action against tax avoidance and a more proactive approach to the misuse of trusts” (Conservative Manifesto 2017) such as that established by Lord Bathurst. The same manifesto makes commitments to reduce tax and reduce corporate tax to 17 percent by 2020.

As far as we know, the Bathurst Development has done nothing illegal in holding the land in a Bermudan trust. But morally, by avoiding tax, it is placing a greater burden on those individuals and companies who pay the UK tax due. Justifying its action by saying the avoided tax “is not very much” is not acceptable.

Individuals and companies avoiding tax place a greater burden on the public purse. So why does the Cotswold Council continue to spend public money in working with Bathurst Development on a proposal which it knows is designed to avoid UK tax? Surely it must be wrong that the Conservative-led Cotswold Council ignores the commitments of the current and previous Conservative Prime Ministers. 

The Council will, for example, rightly refuse to award a £10,000 contract to repair buildings if the company involved intends to avoid UK tax. Yet is seems happy to spend public money on a £822 million development proposed by Bathurst Development.

SOC again calls on the council to correct this and has written to the Mr Clifton-Brown MP to do the same.

Chairman of SOC