A year after LibDem-controlled Sutton Council agreed to hand over a piece of public property at a generous £1 million discount to a charity of which LibDem MP Tom Brake is a trustee, and renovation work has yet to start on The Lodge in Carshalton.
Now the trust getting the benefit of the juicy deal – EcoLocal – wants to go back to the Sutton Council to ask for a loan so that it can pay for its cut-price lease.
The 125-year lease on the landmark building by Carshalton ponds caused controversy this time last year when it emerged that two of the Sutton councillors who voted for the discount deal on the council-owned property also just happen to be members of Brake’s own staff, something they failed to mention among the disclosures of interest before the decision was taken.
Brake, who represents Carshalton and Wallington, is the last LibDem MP in a London seat. He has no pecuniary interest in EcoLocal.
EcoLocal’s long-term lease for The Lodge was agreed by Sutton Council at just £600,000. But just weeks before agreeing that amount, Sutton Council had the building valued as being worth up to £1.7million. Since then, thanks to London’s rapidly rising property market, estimates put the value of The Lodge at £2million, at least.
EcoLocal wants to convert part of the building into nine flats. The prestigious address, surrounded by parkland and overlooking the picturesque Carshalton ponds, could see EcoLocal net a cool £4million from the sale of the flats.
But after 12 months, no work has been carried out on the site, with opposition Tories on Sutton Council accusing the LibDems of giving EcoLocal “preferential treatment”.
Trevor Lancefield, another director of EcoLocal, told the Sutton Guardian that the charity intends to apply to the council for development funding. “We are asking for a short-term loan for building works and to cover the initial purchase of the asset from Sutton Council. EcoLocal have a good chance of raising this loan, but it is not yet guaranteed.”
Lancefield told the local paper in July this year that “… our lawyers are finalising the technical legal requirements of all the parties involved, so that our application to the bank can be finalised. This has involved our lawyers talking to the local authority as well as the bank and ourselves – the process is detailed from a legal point of view. But no problems are anticipated”.
Tim Crowley, the leader of the Tory group on Sutton Council, said, “The decision to grant them the Lodge was made a year ago and at the strategy and resource committee meeting last week it was said that any organisation that takes over a building should be able to demonstrate how the immediate capital works and how it would be funded, but EcoLocal have not demonstrated that.
“It seems like one rule for one and another rule for another. I’m pretty annoyed about it and it seems EcoLocal have had preferential treatment.”
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