The Sunday Times reported this morning that Michael Bates, the Tory peer who is married to Xuelin Bates, the UK-based “sponsor” of the failed £500 million ZhongRong Group proposal for a vast business and retail centre in Crystal Palace Park, may have been in breach of Parliamentary rules by failing to declare an interest in the scheme.
Inside Croydon reported last month on the complete collapse of the scheme, which was enthusiastically backed by London Mayor Boris Johnson and involved giving over a large chunk of the public park to the Chinese industrialists and would have had a long-term impact on the nearby National Sports Centre.
Lord Bates is a former Conservative party MP who has also been deputy chairman of his party and was a Home Office minister in the recent ConDem Government. His Chinese-born wife, whom he married in 2012, is a generous supporter of the Conservatives, having donated at least £160,000 to the party.
Xuelin Bates was listed as ZRG’s sponsor on an exclusivity agreement with Bromley Council which expired in February after the Chinese made additional and extensive demands. In addition, Lord and Lady Bates are minuted by the Greater London Authority as having attended a meeting together on behalf of ZRG during the course of negotiations, which had begun in 2011. In one meeting from October 2012, Lady Bates is described as “architect and property developer representing ZhongRong Group”. Lord Bates is listed under “applicant”.
The Chinese scheme included plans for a sumptuous 6-star hotel, luxury shops, jewellery showrooms and art galleries in a vast recreation of Joseph Paxton’s Victorian Crystal Palace, which was built for the 1851 Great Exhibition and later re-sited at the top of the hill in Sydenham until it was destroyed by fire in 1936.
According to the newspaper report today, Lord Bates never entered any involvement in the ZRG project in the House of Lords’ register of interests.
Such involvement with ZRG’s multi-million-pound proposals – which ultimately would have affected the whole of Crystal Palace Park, including the National Sports Centre – may have been relevant once he was appointed to a Lords committee considering the regeneration and sporting legacy of the 2012 Olympics.
The athletics stadium at Crystal Palace had originally been included as a centre of excellence for the area south of the Thames, something which would be impossible if the demolition of the track and indoor training area – as proposed in a GLA consultation last year – went ahead to make way for the “Paxton Axis” included in the Chinese designs, which extended well beyond that part of the park they were originally allocated.
Today’s Sunday Times reports Lord Bates as saying, “Xuelin never received any payment or stood to benefit in any way from the proposed rebuilding of the exhibition palace nor will we in the future. As such, I would have no interest to enter in the register.”
The notion that, because an individual holding public position, does not have any conflicts of interest just because they have received no obvious payment will be familiar to readers of Inside Croydon. It is the same argument put forward by Gavin Barwell, the erstwhile MP for Croydon Central, whenever he is challenged over his position with landowners the Whitgift Foundation, who are to be major beneficiaries of the £1 billion Westfield redevelopment in the centre of town.
Earlier this month, Lord Bates came to Croydon to canvass on behalf of Barwell. Perhaps they swapped notes?
Bates explained to the Sunday Times, somewhat patronisingly it may seem, that he only attened the meeting with City Hall officials “to assist Xuelin in understanding the GLA process”. Lord Bates told the newspaper that her role with ZRG had ceased in April 2013, the month before his Olympic legacy committee work began.
The newspaper quotes John Mann, the Labour parliamentary candidate for Bassetlaw, disputing the significance of the lack of payment in whether an MP or official on a public body has a duty to be properly open about their interests.
“There is no ambiguity in terms of what needs to be declared,” Mann told the paper. “A direct connection to a major proposed development requires a full declaration of interests.
“Either someone is being paid for what they are doing or it has potential benefits in the future. And the fact that it has potential benefits means it requires declaring. That’s the whole point of declaring.”
Gavin Barwell, and Croydon Councillor Toni Letts, please take note.
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- MP Barwell backs road scheme which could see Waddon park bulldozed
- £50m deal clears away objectors to Hammersfield
- Lord Coe’s company plans to bulldoze athletics stadium
- Assembly member calls Chinese Palace plans a ‘fiasco’
- Boris accused over ‘secret’ £500m Chinese giveaway
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