Sutton Council’s junketing at MIPIM in the South of France next month is being paid for, in part at least, by a company which is subject to an investigation over bribery allegations by the Metropolitan Police’s complex fraud team.
Niall Bolger, Sutton’s chief executive, was quoted in an official press release last week – issued just days after Inside Croydon had revealed details of the £30,000 trip – which confirmed that the council’s three-person delegation to the property developers’ conference in Cannes is being part-sponsored by Barratt’s London.
Alastair Baird, the managing director of the London division of the country’s biggest housebuilders, was arrested last October, as was a former Barratt’s employee.
At the time, Scotland Yard said that there was an ongoing inquiry into “a number of allegations of corruption … related to irregularities in the tendering process”. No detail was provided about which projects this related to.
Barratt’s had been conducting an internal investigation since August 2015. Last month a further three arrests were made in the course of the investigation. Baird remains on police bail. The company has said that it will “co-operate fully with the Metropolitan Police and to conduct our own investigation into these matters”.
Barratt’s, through its various divisions and subsidiaries, has wide-ranging interests in property development across south London. It is Barratt’s to whom Boris Johnson, when he was Mayor of London, handed the publicly owned Cane Hill hospital site at no charge, just to get hundreds of houses built close to Coulsdon. The land was estimated as being worth £250million.
And in Sutton, Barratt’s have been courted for years to sign-up for the council-backed heating network, called SDEN, to service its Felnex housing development using water supposedly heated by the incinerator being built at Beddington Lane.
When Bolger had the arrests of Baird and the investigation into Barratt’s London division brought to his attention last year, he was adamant that Sutton Council had had no involvement with that company or Baird over Felnex.
In an email to Ruth Dombey, the council leader, and other senior councillors, sent on October 20 last year, Bolger wrote: “We are dealing with a separate operational division of Barratts. Mr Baird is the MD for the London Division. The Felnex development is being taken forward by the Kent Division.
“So in response to your question, there have been no meetings with Mr Baird.”
Yet records at Companies House show that, until last November when he resigned as a director, Baird was indeed involved with BDW Trading, the Barratt’s subsidiary which is developing the Felnex site in Sutton.
Neither Sutton Council nor the company have made any announcement of a conclusion of the long-running negotiations over Barratt’s taking SDEN as its heating supplier at Felnex.
Sutton securing a major client for its heating for the next 20 to 30 years is of fundamental importance to the LibDem council as it imposes the polluting Viridor incinerator on south London. Unless the incinerator and the council make money from turning waste into heat, all Dombey and Bolger’s arguments and the (already dubious) financial case for building the incinerator collapse.
Tonight, Barratt’s has an application going before the Sutton Council planning committee which includes the installation of piping that would allow the SDEN heating network to operate beyond Felnex. This seems curious.
Installation of underground heating pipes, electrical cabling, communication cabling and associated works to allow the transfer of hot water and high speed data though a decentralised energy network for use by the Felnex development and to provide a future connection point on Hackbridge Road which would facilitate the wider borough network connection.
And curiouser. When Barratt’s originally submitted the application last autumn, the wording was a bit different. It says:
“The installation of underground heating pipes, electrical cabling, communication cabling and associated works to allow the transfer of hot water and high speed data though a decentralised energy network for use by the Felnex development and to provide a future connection point on Hackbridge Road which would facilitate the wider borough network connection for SDEN and future proof the Felnex site.” Those are our italics.
So Barratt’s is applying for planning permission to Sutton so that they can pay for Sutton to connect SDEN to a wider area. Why isn’t Sutton paying for this?
Inside Croydon has been unable to find previous applications by Barratt’s in Sutton in which providing this generous offer to lay additional SDEN piping was included as a condition of planning permission.
And it was clearly never discussed with Alasdair Baird when he was still a director of the company doing the work, because according to Niall Bolger, “there have been no meetings with Mr Baird”.
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