WALTER CRONXITE uncovers the involvement of a Croydon consultancy in the secretive sponsorship deals which are paying for senior Sutton Council officials to attend a property speculators’ conference in the South of France
Sutton Council is refusing to provide information, even to elected councillors, about the £30,000 jaunt to the South of France which three senior officials will go on next month, to attend MIPIM, the champagne-swilling developers’ conference.
But Inside Croydon has discovered that Sutton’s secret sponsors are house-builders Barratt and developers Mizen, and that the council is one of 16 London boroughs going on the beano to Cannes, with many aspects of the delegation organised by a Croydon-based PR consultancy.Inside Croydon revealed last week how Sutton Council chief executive Niall Bolger had signed off on the trip, with approval from Ruth Dombey, the leader of the FibDem-run council.
Sutton Council has since refused to say which “commercial sponsors” are footing the bills, despite the myriad of potential conflicts of interest over planning applications and development rights in the borough.
Requests from councillors for the budgets for the four-day trip to Cannes and details of any events to be attended by Bolger and two of his colleagues at the property speculators’ jolly on the Med have also been denied.
Opposition councillors are suspicious about the high tariff for such a brief foray into the glitzy world of international development: registration to attend MIPIM is just £1,500 per person; in 2016, Croydon Council spent just £8,000 to send its delegation to the same event.
But some gentle digging reveals that organising the Sutton Council visit is a public relations agency, 3Fox International, which has offices in Sunley House, close to East Croydon Station.
3Fox’s website has a page about Sutton’s MIPIM trip. It shows that Sutton has a “speaking slot” in the London Pavilion on the morning of March 16.
And it shows that Sutton Council’s “MIPIM partners”, paying the bills for Bolger to enjoy a spring break on the Cote d’Azur, are Barratt, the house builders, and Mizen, another firm of developers active in Sutton.
Mizen has recently been allowed to build a six-storey block of flats on Sutton High Street, an area where the typical building height is four storeys or fewer.
Also, and controversially, Mizen has applied to build a nine-storey block of flats on the site of the Prince Regent pub, what was until recently a protected Grade II-listed building.
Demolition of the old boozer, which has been closed for a year, would have been impossible without it being “de-listed”, which duly happened at the end of last year, after a pretty feeble bit of opposition from the councillors for the affected ward, who include Dombey.
Mizen’s initial planning application for the site has since been declined by Sutton Council. No doubt, they’ll be trying again, perhaps after the council trip to MIPIM.
Sutton’s other travel sponsors are Barratt, which is developing the New Mill Quarter and Felnex in Hackbridge. Dealings between the council and the house-builder have encountered a bit of a set-back in recent months, ever since Alastair Baird, the Barratt London region managing director with whom they were dealing, was arrested by police on suspicion of bribery, following an internal company investigation.
There is no suggestion that Barratt’s sponsorship of a Sutton Council jolly to the South of France is in any way connected to the police bribery inquiry, and nor would we wish to imply that there is anything amiss with the MIPIM sponsorship deals.However, the possibilities for even the appearance of conflicts of interest would seem to be many when senior council officials can fly off to the French Riviera paid for by developers who have had recent planning permissions granted or applications pending.
Referring to the Inside Croydon article which broke the story, Councillor Neil Garratt, the deputy leader of the Conservative group on Sutton Council, said today, “I’ve been told they can’t tell me how it costs £10,000 per head.
The council, Garratt said, “told me they are unable to provide that level of detail – on how a £1,500 conference costs £10,000”.
Garratt has filed a detailed list of questions to Bolger about the arrangements for his visit to Cannes and Sutton’s secret sponsors. These included:
- Why did you choose not to name the sponsors in the announcement?
- What are the commercial sponsors expecting in return for their £30,000 investment? Something more than a Brexit Toblerone from the airport shop?
- Why the delay in announcement, when the leader made the decision in September?
- Can we have a breakdown of how attendance at an event with a ticket price of approx £1,450 per head turns into a total cost of £10,000 per head?
- I’m unsure what evidence there is that MIPIM is the right event or channel. It certainly is a major property investment trade conference, but with the focus on development, hotels, and tourism. Is that the right place to find interest in the cancer hub?And,
- As a council, we have a commercial property investment fund and a commercial property development company, but they aren’t going to the commercial property trade conference. How come?
Garratt says that he has yet to receive a single satisfactory response to any of his enquiries of the council.
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