BARRATT HOLMES reports on more revelations about council home-builders’ business which failed to get a mention at last week’s Town Hall scrutiny committee
One of the company directors of Brick by Brick has resigned from the board of Croydon Council’s house-building company.
And the company has sought to extend its accounting period for three months.
Neither of these important details were shared by the company’s CEO, Colm Lacey, or Councillor Alison Butler, the Labour council’s cabinet member for housing, at a Town Hall scrutiny committee last week.
The video recording of that meeting, supposedly available online for public view within 24 hours of the committee taking place, has yet to appear on the council website.
Extending Brick by Brick’s accounting period, something which was pushed through quietly earlier this month, will probably be passed off as a mere device over the paperwork. But the latest accounts, when they are eventually made available, are not expected to be overflowing with good news.
In its first year’s trading, Brick by Brick made a loss of £1.1million. In 2017, the second year of trading, they reported a loss of £267,052. The third year, 2018, will have seen the company’s costs rise significantly, as construction began on a number of sites, but without the company having completed any homes for sale to defray those outgoings.
Failure to even mention the director’s resignation or the shift in accounting dates prompts a reasonable question: Just what else is Lacey and council chief exec Jo “We’re Not Stupid” Negrini not telling councillors and the Council Tax-payers of Croydon about their struggling pet project?
It was not as if the elected councillors at the scrutiny committee, or its chair, Labour councillor Sean Fitzsimons, arrived well-prepared last Tuesday to question Brick by Brick’s use of more than £700million of public finance and property.
Two Tory councillors didn’t even bother to show up, nor made arrangements for their colleagues to deputise for them.
But Fitzsimons (annual council allowances: £35,344) and those councillors who did attend might, with a quick reference to Companies House records online, have been able to ask some pointed questions about the resignation of one of the company’s directors.
Brick by Brick’s business report, which was presented to the meeting, confirmed that the company will fail to deliver a single council home by 2022, and also showed that of the 290 units it expects to complete in 2019, a staggering 71 per cent will be going for private sale.
Of the 12 sites which Brick by Brick will complete this year, seven will offer no “affordable” housing whatsoever.
The Labour-run council has borrowed £700million of public money to fund Brick by Brick’s developments, but the council-owned house-builder is running at least nine months late in delivering its first new homes.
The business plan released to councillors at the scrutiny committee was heavily laden with caveats about Brexit analysis which was seen to render the financial figures offered virtually worthless.
No explanation has been offered for the resignation from the board of property speculator Jeremy Titchen.
Titchen was one of four directors of Brick by Brick appointed in January 2016 after the company had been registered the previous year. He has previously worked for the Qataris in their often controversial multi-billion-pound developments of Chelsea Barracks, Southbank Place and the former US Embassy in Grosvenor Square. He has also worked for Hammerson, the shopping mall owners who own Centrale in Croydon and are supposed to be redeveloping the Whitgift Centre as part of the “Croydon Partnership” with Westfield.
Titchen holds a range of other non-executive directorships, including Seymour Street Homes for British Land. What “value” he might then have brough to Brick by Brick, as it seeks to overdevelop parts of Croydon using scraps of public land, open spaces and council car parks, was never explained.
Titchen’s departure leaves just Lacey, Lisa Taylor, another Croydon Council employee, and Skanska’s Jayne McGivern as directors of Brick by Brick.
Tonight, ahead of the first full council meeting of 2019, one Town Hall source said, “This would seem to be an appropriate opportunity for the council-owned housing company to appoint two or three councillors as directors, to provide proper scrutiny of how it is operating and spending our money.
“It is overdue: the council is investing huge amounts of public money, and the public has a right to be represented in the company’s deliberations at board level, for proper transparency and openness. Last week’s scrutiny meeting showed that Brick by Brick is avoiding such transparency.”
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