£500That’s the value that Tom Brake has had put on his reputation.
Brake is the last London LibDem MP standing. The MP for Carshalton and Wallington, in Sutton, served as Deputy Leader of the House in the ConDem coalition.
No longer in government, lately Brake has been bandying around threats on Twitter against some constituents who have dared question his involvement with a property deal with Sutton Council.
Sutton’s Liberal Democrat-controlled council has handed a 125-year lease on The Lodge, a landmark building by Carshalton ponds, to EcoLocal for around £1 million less than the property’s full commercial value. Brake just happens to be a trustee of EcoLocal, and two of the Sutton councillors who took the decision on The Lodge also happen to be members of the MP’s own staff. But they forgot to mention this among the disclosures of interest before the council meeting when the decision was taken.
Now Inside Croydon hears that Brake has set his lawyers on the Guido Fawkes website and on the Sutton Conservative opposition group, for “smearing” him.
Brake’s lawyers have written to demand an apology, and Sutton Tories have been told to pay £500 to cover his legal costs. Yep… all of 500 notes. Is that all that Brake’s lawyers think the MP’s reputation is worth?
Inside Croydon understands that Sutton’s Tories have been spending the weekend pondering their legal options, with some of them seriously considering calling Brake’s bluff and seeing whether he dares drag them into the libel courts, where the full details of how a LibDem local authority came to hand over a landmark property at £1 million less than its market value could be discussed and the MP subjected to an embarrassing cross-examination from a suitably inquisitive QC.
It could be the sort of show trial which could make, or Brake, a political career.
Brake’s complaint about the Guido Fawkes articles is that they have referred to EcoLocal as his “company”, when he maintains that it is a charity, a not-for-profit in which he says he has no pecuniary interest.
“I am disappointed, but not surprised at Conservative efforts to smear me,” Brake told the Sutton Guardian. “They must be desperate if they have to pretend that a charity and not-for-profit company I am a trustee of, and have no pecuniary interest in, is ‘my company’.
“I am, however, surprised that they have decided to oppose plans supported by a wide range of local groups to keep the Lodge partly as a community asset, and seem to be favouring instead allowing private developers to build flats in the Ecology Centre grounds.”
EcoLocal’s long-term lease for The Lodge has been agreed by Sutton Council at just £600,000. Sutton has had the landmark building valued as worth up to £1.7 million on the rapidly rising London property market.
Among the Sutton councillors who took the decision on the Lodge deal were Callum Morton and Manuel Abellan, whose day jobs are to run Brake’s office and handle his correspondence and publicity. They say that they never bothered to declare any interest in the sale of The Lodge to EcoLocal because there was no interest to declare.
EcoLocal wants to convert part of the building into nine flats. The prestigious address, surrounded by parkland in a conservation area and overlooking the picturesque Carshalton ponds, could see EcoLocal net a cool £4 million, at least, from the sale of the flats. That’s money which Sutton’s Tories believe the council could be generating itself, if it undertook the redevelopment work, with the proceeds going towards the hard-pressed local authority budget.
Brake’s row over The Lodge comes not long after a church in his constituency received a £275,000 donation.
The £275,000 “gift” to Holy Trinity, Wallington, came from Viridor Environmental Credits, the charity arm of incinerator operators Viridor. This all happened around the time that Sutton’s LibDem-run council was handing planning permission to Viridor for an industrial-scale waste incinerator at Beddington Lane, on the borough boundary with Croydon. Brake and his LibDem supporters have frequently held party meetings in the Wallington church hall.
Not yet built, the Viridor incinerator is already creating a stink in south London, so much so that the Green Party peer, Jenny Jones, has started asking questions in the House of Lords about the generous gifts from Viridor to Holy Trinity and other schemes in other (now former) Liberal Democrat constituencies in south-west London.
Nick Mattey, the Sutton councillor who has been expelled from the Liberal Democrats after asking too many awkward questions about the Viridor incinerator and Brake’s favourite local church, has now confronted the MP over the EcoLocal deal. Mattey has questioned the silence from EcoLocal, an environmental charity, over the £1 billion incinerator being built on their doorstep.
“You are a supporter of the Viridor incinerator,” Mattey has written in an email to Brake. “Burning 300,000 tons of rubbish a year in Beddington will pollute the air… A director of an ecological charity cannot champion an incinerator where residents were promised a country park.
“Why has EcoLocal said not one single word about the LibDem-Viridor incinerator? Are bricks and mortar more important than flora and fauna?
“You are a director of EcoLocal and I am very concerned that Sutton tax-payers will be soon forced to subsidise your charity. EcoLocal has failed to carry out its obligations to protect the local ecosystem. It does not merit any financial help with tax-payers’ money.”
And now Brake is being accused of trying to gag the opposition to The Lodge scheme.
Neil Garrett, is a Conservative councillor who is the opposition’s finance spokesman on Sutton Council. He told Inside Croydon: “Brake has not disputed the facts we’ve set out, nor answered any of the serious questions put to him.
“People will think that resorting to lawyers is an attempt to intimidate us into silence. But these questions won’t go away.”
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