Borough Solicitor issues councillors with CPO gagging order

WHO’S REALLY RUNNING CROYDON COUNCIL (Part 94): The borough’s 70 councillors, all democratically elected as recently as last May to represent the interests of the people of Croydon, have been ordered to express no opinion whatsoever about the £1billion Hammersfield development, possibly for as long as the next six months.

Julie Belvir: Croydon's all-powerful Borough Solicitor

Julie Belvir: Croydon’s all-powerful Borough Solicitor

The extraordinary gagging order has been issued by the all-powerful and apparently entirely unaccountable Borough Solicitor, Julie Belvir, ahead of the Compulsory Purchase Order hearings which are due to begin next month.

If observed by councillors, it could mean that residents and business owners affected by the scheme will not be able to call upon their elected representatives to speak on their behalf.

There have been 141 legal objections to the CPOs, which will have been issued through Belvir’s office. The CPOs seek to use millions of pounds of public money to buy-up land in and around the Whitgift Centre to enable the redevelopment scheme proposed by Westfield and Hammerson to go ahead.

That there have been so many objections – from businesses as varied as HSBC bank to Claire’s Accessories – suggests that the council’s highly paid legal staff and Jo Negrini, Croydon’s executive director in charge of development, have failed to negotiate successfully with many of the borough’s long-established traders and to allay their many and growing concerns.

Westfield have been commissioned to carry out the re-development by the borough’s biggest landowners, the Whitgift Foundation, who own the majority, but not all, of the freehold of the town centre shopping centre. The board of the Whitgift Foundation includes among its members the local Conservative MP, a couple of senior Tory councillors, Labour’s cabinet member for economic development (seriously!), and the mothers of two Labour party parliamentary election candidates. All are already enthusiastic – and apparently unquestioning – advocates of the scheme.

The CPO hearings are due to run until March, but the inspector’s rulings may not be available until as late as July.

The gagging order on councillors from the Borough Solicitor’s office is an astonishingly anti-democratic move by Belvir on such a key issue for Croydon’s future. It will be interesting to see which councillors have the moral fortitude to defy it.

At least one councillor has had the balls to leak Obersturmführer Belvir’s gagging order. Sadly, they chose not to send it to Inside Croydon. Perhaps they do really fear the wrath of council leader Tony “Soprano” Newman more than Belvir?

According to a report in the Sadvertiser (not a phrase often used on these pages), Belvir has banned any public comments by councillors on the CPO inquiry, including on social media. Whether Belvir even has the authority to do this is not a question posed by the Sadvertiser. Nor have they asked whether the email was issued with the agreement of the council leader, Newman. If any councillors dared to ask such a question, their enquiry would be directed to the office of… Julie Belvir.

CPO battleground: the Whitgift Centre - though woe betide any local councillors who speaks about it

CPO battleground: the Whitgift Centre – though woe betide any local councillors who speaks about it

The Sadvertiser reports that Belvir’s email to councillors says, “This is obviously a very exciting time for the council and a positive outcome from the CPO inquiry would be one of the biggest boosts to Croydon’s regeneration plans in decades.”

How reassuring that an unelected council employee should decide what is, and what is not, good for the borough, and even before the proper legal process of the CPO hearing has begun.

“In order to minimise any risk to the inquiry process around conflicting information or mis-communications, members of the council are respectively [sic; we think she means respectfully] asked to refrain from making any public statement directly, or through social media, concerning the CPO and the council’s case in the lead up to and during the inquiry.

“This is help ensure that a coherent case is presented by the council.” Which would also be an historic first for Croydon Council.

“Any announcements from the council concerning the CPO should be managed through the council’s press team.” You can almost hear the sound of the click of the jackboot as the full-point was added to the end of that sentence.

Inside Croydon’s crack team of researchers has trawled the interweb looking to see when anyone ever voted for a member of the Croydon Council press office (annual budget c.£600,000), or for Belvir (annual salary £130,000, which may make her the third-highest paid official working in Fisher’s Folly).

Sadly, they have been unable to find any mention of any such elections.

  • If you have a news story about life in or around Croydon, a residents’ or business association or local event, please email us with full details at inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
This entry was posted in "Hammersfield", Allders, Business, Centrale, CPO, Croydon Council, Gavin Barwell, Jo Negrini, Julie Belvir, Planning, Tony Newman, Whitgift Centre and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Borough Solicitor issues councillors with CPO gagging order

  1. timbartell says:

    Why bother having an expensive system of ‘going through the motions council ‘ why not save a load of money and just let the legal department run the whole thing on behalf of business. This is just a microcosm of what this country has become.

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  2. Its OUR Council, elected by OUR votes, running OUR affairs and looking (hopefully) after OUR best interests….what right has any employee of the Council (for, ultimately that is all that Ms Belvir is) to tell my elected representative what he or she should or shouldn’t say? I do hope that at least one Councillor, not blinded by Parliamentary or London ambition, has the courage to speak out against this anti-democratic diktat and the forthcoming planning disaster of Hammersfield. I live in forlorn hope, I fear….

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  3. davidcallam says:

    A respectful request is not an order.
    I hope councillors will spot the difference and ignore the solicitor’s pleadings.
    Unusually, as a correspondent to Inside Croydon, I am in favour of the Whitgift Centre redevelopment. But I also believe in free speech. How are we supposed to judge the validity of any complaints being made if council officers are trying to minimise discussion?

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    • No one’s against the development, per se, David. Just against a bad development, delivered at massive public subsidy, apparently for the benefit of vested interests, and without proper scrutiny.

      PS Your latest article is well overdue

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  4. I can see some logic in the Council wanting to present a coherent approach to this important scheme. However I would have thought that the advice/instruction to Members should be coming from the Political Parties via their respective Leaders/Whips. My experience of working with Councillors is that they do not like being told what to do by Council Officers but rather they would ask/listen to advice and then make their own decisions based on a number of factors including, quite rightly, political priorities. I find this report quite astounding in that it is an Officer issuing the instruction and I would suspect that the CPO Inspector might have issues with an organisation that seeks to act in this way.

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  5. Nick Davies says:

    The instruction to direct enquires to the press office, especially when something untoward is going on, is perfectly normal in organisations. For employees.

    You do wonder if council officers assume councillors are there to represent the council to their constituents, rather than vice versa. Certainly some councillors act in exactly this way, so it’s not surprising when officers try to reinforce such behaviour. Senior council staff need to be reminded, once in a while, who’s boss.

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