The chief executive of Sutton Council, Niall Bolger, has been accused of “going ballistic” over reports regarding his £30,000 sponsored trip to the MIPIM development conference in the South of France next month.
Bolger has taken it upon himself to distribute widely a legal letter that had been drafted on behalf of the council, apparently in an effort to gag one of his borough’s elected councillors, after Inside Croydon had reported that house-builders Barratt’s are among the sponsors of his visit to Cannes.
Barratt’s has its latest in a string of applications going before Sutton’s planning committee this week. This involves the piping for SDEN, the Sutton Decentralised Energy Network, to properties being developed by Barratt’s. SDEN is a controversial scheme backed by the LibDem-run council which is supposed to provide heat generated from the Viridor incinerator that is being constructed at Beddington Lane.
Late last year, Barratt’s were successful in getting permission for 80 additional home units at its Felnex development, replacing a permission that had previously been granted for a 90-bed care home. That change in development could be worth at least an extra £20million of business to the company.
It is against the law to attempt to influence members of a local authority’s planning committee, whether through lobbying – such as sending out emails – or through any sort of inducements.
Inside Croydon has seen the letter from the council’s solicitors. Bolger, Sutton’s most senior council employee, subsequently distributed the letter widely among political figures associated with the borough, including MPs Tom Brake and Paul Scully, plus the council leader, Ruth Dombey, and a member of the council’s planning committee roster. By doing so, Bolger appears to be deliberately trying to discredit the letter’s original recipient, independent councillor Nick Mattey.
After consulting our lawyers at the high street firm Sue, Grabbit & Runne, we have been advised that to reproduce Sutton’s legal letter may risk our repeating any libels which it contains.
“The sending of the letter raises all sorts of questions about the council’s administration,” a Sutton opposition Tory councillor told Inside Croydon. “But Bolger’s intervention, to send the council’s private legal correspondence to third parties, crosses a line.
“But who authorised the use of council funds to get the letter drafted in the first place?
“Then there’s the question of whether Sutton Council’s legal department is actually up to the job: it is very badly written and whoever it was who wrote the letter and authorised it to be sent doesn’t even know the difference in meaning between ‘infer’ and ‘imply’. Any decent legal firm would, in any case, advise against sending such a letter, which is full of threats and bluster, but nothing else.
“Above all, this raises an issue of the potential bullying of an elected councillor. It’s a long letter, running to more than three pages. It is a blatant attempt to intimidate and gag someone.”
Mattey, a councillor for Beddington North, the ward where the Viridor incinerator is being built, remains defiant, despite the threats against him. Mattey has already been expelled by the Liberal Democrat party for exposing details of the “grants” handed over by Viridor’s charity arm to projects supported by the Sutton LibDems.
Mattey and Bolger also have “history”: nearly two years ago, Bolger summoned the outspoken councillor to his office to issue a bollocking for Mattey daring to break the omerta over a £275,000 hand-out from Viridor Environmental Credits to a Wallington church hall often used by local MP Tom Brake and his LibDem party colleagues.
Today, Mattey told Inside Croydon: “It seems that the council’s legal letter is being used by Mr Bolger to try to prove to his circulation list of MPs and LibDems that is wrong for people like myself to question the wisdom of receiving £30,000 of funding from companies who do business with Sutton Council. I am an elected councillor and I have a mandate to ask questions on such matters.
“If Mr Bolger believes that no one should ask probing but fair questions on spending money, eliminating waste and the best use of council resources, then he is wrong.”
- How Sutton is spending its £30,000 MIPIM sponsorship funding
- Negrini heads Croydon team to Cannes ‘booze and hooker fest’
- Sutton’s secret sponsors for £30,000 South of France trip
- Click here to read in full Niall Bolger’s report on why he should spend four days in the South of France
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