It’s nearly one month since Paul Scott, the councillor for Woodside ward and part of the Croydon clique which controls the Labour group at the Town Hall, staged a secretive meeting to discuss development schemes for the area. Since when, barely a peep has been heard about the discussions.
Certainly, nothing has been heard from Scott, the chair of the powerful council planning committee, about why he has sought the involvement in Croydon of a company called Community Land Use, one of whose directors has been subject to an investigation over his conduct by the Charity Commission.
Scott is a busy man, who as well as being a ward councillor and council planning committee chair, has a full-time job as an architect. He also holds tight to a wide range of roles on local community groups. So many, indeed, that sometimes it is hard to keep up with just whose interest Scott is serving at any given time.
Scott’s meeting was held on the last Saturday of October at Stanley Halls – where Scott is the vice-chair of the charity running the revived venue. Scott had called the meeting in his role as the chair of a local community group, People for Portland Road.
When we say that the meeting was “secretive”, it appears that Scott had wanted the meeting to be by personal invitation only, offering a chance to meet the nice people from Community Land Use. Locals suggest that Scott seemed to be a little put out when, in the week before his cosy little get-together, one of the lucky recipients of the personal invites to the meeting posted details of the event on social media.
Among those pointedly not invited by Scott to the meeting were any local business owners, shopkeepers or traders, and certainly not the awkward agitators from the South Norwood Tourist Board.
In the event, little more than a dozen people turned up to find out more about what Scott calls a Community Economic Development Plan for South Norwood.
Of those that did, one attendee went to the trouble to take notes for her own reference of what was said and discussed. She was approached at the end of the meeting “somewhat officiously” by one of those running the event and had her notes confiscated.
It is suggested that there were no formal minutes taken of the meeting. So “secretive” might not be too strong a description.
The meeting was led by Lorraine Hart from Community Land Use, whom Scott had invited to “steer” the meeting. At the beginning of the session, some downloaded statistics of the area were handed out to prove CLU had done their “research” on South Norwood. There was another handout listing somewhat vague details of all the projects that CLU had worked with around England.
Hart told the meeting that she was a community housing activist from Hackney. But after the meeting, when community housing activist groups in and around Hackney were contacted, no one there had heard of Lorraine Hart.
But when the name of Jon Aldenton, Hart’s co-director at CLU, was mentioned, there was a good deal more recognition.
Aldenton is well-known in east London, though not necessarily for supporting local communities. Local groups there associate Aldenton with schemes which have tended to piggy-back community groups in the name of gentrification, where property prices soar quickly and residents and businesses are forced out.
In 2010, Aldenton was the subject of an investigation by the Charity Commission over his part in a Wapping-based trust, the Turk’s Head Company, after it had made a loan of more than £100,000 to Tower Hamlets Environmental Trust – a house-builder business where Aldenton worked.
Charities are not usually allowed to operate as bankers. The Turk’s Head loan was made in 2007, just before the global financial meltdown, and the following year, as the mortgage market seized up, Tower Hamlets Environmental Trust went into administration. Most of the charity’s loan funds were lost.
The Charity Commission investigation was inconclusive. It refused to reveal the outcome of its report and recommendations on the Turk’s Head Company; and no action was taken against Aldenton.
But Aldenton, in a lengthy note to a hyperlocal website, maintained that he had taken no part in the Turk’s Head decision “to lend their spare cash to the Environment Trust”. When Tower Hamlets Environment Trust went bust, Aldenton lost his job.
“My fellow trustees of the Turk’s Head Company refused to accept my resignation and I am now happily leading a team who have plenty of energy to improve things locally,” he wrote in 2011. Indeed, he remains a director of Turk’s Head today, one of nearly 20 directorships of various companies.
Aldenton also said after the Charity Commission investigation, “I think it important to nail the lie that there has been any kind of jiggery-pokery with charitable funds”. Which is always good to know.
Aldenton registered Community Land Use as a company more than 25 years ago. It operates, they say, “to promote and support community led development and regeneration. With years of experience funding, building and completing schemes, our creative approach to problem solving can help make projects a reality”.
Just the sort of scheme that has been seen with the Chatsworth Road Market gentrification in Hackney where local traders were driven out.
Of course, there are absolutely no similarities whatsoever in what is going on right now in South Norwood, where small businesses are being forced out by policies framed by a local council in which Paul Scott is chair of the planning committee, and his wife, Alison Butler, is the cabinet member responsible for “regeneration”.
Scott’s secretive meeting with Community Land Use, where residents were not allowed to take any notes away, never got around to addressing who paid the consultants to attend, and if so, how much they were paid.
Maybe, if there’s ever a second meeting and Councillor Scott deigns to invite more than a handful of locals, those are the kind of questions which might get asked.
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