Sutton’s chief executive and two senior council officials set off on a sales trip to the MIPIM conference in the South of France this week probably already knowing that the cancer hub scheme that they were trying to flog to the world’s property developers has already collapsed, after their existing partners, the Institute of Cancer Research, pulled out of the multi-million-pound scheme.
Senior sources within Sutton Council suggest that Niall Bolger, the council’s CEO, will have known two weeks ago that ICR had decided not to contribute its share towards the estimated £25million cost of buying up land around the Sutton Hospital site in Belmont.
Bolger, together with his council colleagues Mary Morrissey and Mandy Cherrington, hosted a 30-minute presentation at the MIPIM conference on Thursday, attended by Jules Pipe, London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s deputy for regeneration, to attract investors to the cancer hub project.
Yet at around the same time as Sutton’s moment in the Cote d’Azur sun, a report was being finalised back in south London to confirm that ICR had pulled out of any financial backing for the cancer hub. The report was prepared by Gerald Almeroth, Sutton’s “strategic director for resources” and was also drafted in the name of Morrissey, the “strategic director for environment, housing and regeneration”.
Under the heading “Corporate Plan Priorities”, the LibDem council’s report states: “A Smart Council”.
It was as recently as February 20 that Sutton councillors agreed to establish a council-owned company, an LLP, in partnership with the ICR to buy the land required for the science and research centre.
But the cancer hub scheme has already been snubbed by Mayor Khan, who at his Sutton question time event earlier this month confirmed that he would not provide the £100million necessary to pay towards a vital public transport link to the site with a tram network extension.
And now ICR has decided that the costs of financing the land acquisition is too rich for their tastes.
In the Sutton Council report released yesterday, it states: “Through further detailed due diligence, negotiations and discussions with advisors it has become apparent that the mechanism of an LLP is not achievable.”
Neil Garratt, a member of Sutton’s Tory opposition, said on seeing the report: “So the professionals who really understand this plan have pulled out. What do they know that the amateurs running the council don’t know?
“I wonder why the LibDems wasted a load of time bringing a plan to the Strategy and Resources Committee for a joint venture, which ICR wasn’t willing to support. Shouldn’t they have checked first?” Garratt asked.
In the council’s formal report, it states: “Based on this and an assumption that land values increase by 1.5 per cent per annum (as per the indicative model reported to the SR Committee) then an estimated deficit of £0.33m would arise upon an exit.
“This would fall to the council alone. Under the LLP model based on five years of borrowing the council’s share of the deficit was estimated at £0.63m (exit after three years).”
Having invested so much public credibility in the scheme, Sutton Council officials have determined that they should go ahead with the project alone, with their Council Tax-payers taking all the risk.
“The recommended approach in this revised report means that the council will be taking all the risks as sole landowner going forward, however, as a strategic asset this will also assist in the achievement of its policy objectives.
“Whilst recognising there are potentially future financial risks it is expected that these can be managed effectively in order to minimise direct impact on the council.”
Last last night, the ICR issued a statement declaring its full support. Just not any risk or money: “We are fully committed to our partnership with the London Borough of Sutton to develop The London Cancer Hub and are pleased to see the programme progress.
“We firmly believe that by working together on The London Cancer Hub, the ICR and the London Borough of Sutton can deliver a project of global significance with benefits for cancer patients, the local community, and the UK economy.”
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