Opposition councillors in Sutton are demanding an urgent meeting with the council chief executive after the authority’s planning committee last night granted permission for a pipe-laying scheme to a division of a company which is paying towards a council trip to the South of France next month.
Tim Crowley, the leader of the Conservative group on Sutton Council who attended last night’s planning meeting, says that he is very concerned about what he calls “a veil of secrecy” surrounding Sutton’s relationship with house-builders Barratt’s and the council’s district energy project, SDEN.
SDEN is the district energy network which Sutton has devised to market the hot water generated from the incinerator being built at Beddington Lane. Unless SDEN can secure several long-term customers for the heat generated from the incinerator, many of the (often specious) economic and environmental arguments which were put forward by Sutton and the South London Waste Partnership (of which Croydon is a member) would… go up in smoke.
Barratt’s, through their development of the Felnex site, are expected to be SDEN’s first, possibly only, major customer. Last night, the house-buidlers were applying for planning permission to lay an estimated £150,000-worth of hot water piping, but not to serve Felnex or any Barratt’s-built properties. Instead, the piping would allow the SDEN network to provide heating elsewhere, including possibly some Croydon properties.
“What a wonderfully generous gesture by Barratt’s to lay that pipework for SDEN,” one of those at the planning meeting said. “Such altruism is rare these days.”
But when Crowley and other councillors at the planning meeting sought answers from the LibDem-majority committee over why a house-builder would lay piping that would not benefit any of its own properties, or what agreements were already in place between Sutton, Barratt’s and SDEN, there was no one who could offer any answers.
When it came to a vote, all the LibDem councillors who form a majority on the planning committee were all in favour of waving through the scheme. Natch.
Crowley said: “It was odd because neither Barratt’s, Sutton or SDEN would or could say whether there was in place as of last night any letter of intent, or memorandum of understanding or signed contract in place between the parties.
“Even the Sutton legal chap said he did not know. This was obviously obfuscation of the highest order and was important in the material context of what they were trying to drive through.
“The veil of secrecy that has been put around the district energy deal between Barratt’s and Sutton was there for all to see.
“Officers of the council and Barratt’s continually refused to say whether any letter of intent, MOU or contracts had been signed. Why are they refusing to say when it is quite clear that discussions and deals have been brokered between the two parties?
“Live planning applications are still on the table at a time when Barratt’s are sponsoring a Sutton delegation to go to MPIM in Cannes.
“I am not saying there is anything untoward but the actions of the council in trying to close this down give grave cause for concern.”
Barratt’s London division, and its managing director, have been subject to a five-month investigation by fraud officers of the Metropolitan Police into allegations of bribery over contracts. It has not been disclosed to which projects the investigations relate.
Niall Bolger, Sutton’s chief executive, is one of three council officials off to MIPIM next month thanks to Barratt’s sponsorship. Bolger has maintained that he has never had any meetings with the Barratt’s director being investigated, and that the Felnex development comes under a different division of the house-building company.
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