Crystal Palace’s £100m new stand at Selhurst Park has the backing of fans (natch), support from councillors and approval from the planning department. Yet the club has gone out and hired a planning lobbyist.
STEVEN DOWNES profiles Terrapin’s man hoping to seal the deal
In 2018, when Crystal Palace submitted their first planning application for their spaceship-like new stand at Selhurst Park, the scheme had little opposition. It got rubber-stamped by the council, the Mayor of London approved it, and club chairman Steve Parish’s appearance before the planning committee helped to deliver a rarity: a unanimous vote in favour.
All that Palace needed to do for the building work to start was to sign a Section 106 agreement with the council, which would provide for the replacement of the six houses that needed to be demolished on Wooderson Close, finding new homes for the five council tenant households there. They needed to do that, and purchase a parcel of land from Sainsbury’s that is currently a car park. Oh, and get the £100million in place to pay for the project.
But Palace never did sign the S106, they have never bought the land from Sainsbury’s, and from statements made by the club in the past week, they are only now getting the money in place to pay for the build. And all this time, the six households on Wooderson Close have been left dangling in uncertainty over the future of their homes, by the club and council.
That might all be about to change, as the club gears up for a revised planning application, to be submitted possibly sometime this autumn.
The lie of the land in planning terms seems little altered since 2018. As far as being granted planning consent, Palace are, as a Katharine Street source said this past week, “pushing at an open door”.
Which makes all the more curious the club’s decision to spend what will no doubt be a decent wedge of cash to hire the help of a notorious firm of lobbyists.
Lobbying, one wannabe Tory Prime Minister once said, is “the next big scandal waiting to happen”. That was David Cameron, before he got caught using his own political influence to lobby in the interests of his new employers.
“We all know how it works,” said Cameron in 2010. “The lunches, the hospitality, the quiet word in your ear, the ex-ministers and ex-advisers for hire, helping big business find the right way to get its way.”
It remains as good as a summary of how the dark arts of the lobbyist work as you are likely to find. And at local council level, where there tends to be a tad less scrutiny than, say, at Westminster, the practice is just as rife.
The Terrapin Group has a well-deserved reputation in the property sector for securing favourable planning approvals for their clients. Terrapin might be mis-named: Octopus might be more appropriate, as their tentacles appear to reach deep into every dark crevice of local government, in London and beyond.
Given that the Terrapin Group often appear to have a foot in both camps, on the side of their developer clients and somehow within the quasi-judicial realm of council planning, it might be shrewd for the South Norwood councillors who are due to meet this week with a senior member of the lobbyists’ team to have a better understanding of Terrapin, and their senior schmoozer, Kevin Davis, a former south London Tory councillor who once warned opponents, “Don’t upset the people in power”.
Terrapin was founded in 2012 by Peter Bingle, who has been described as “the London lobbyist with ties to billions of pounds of gentrification”.
Before setting up his own firm, Bingle, a sometime Conservative Party councillor in Wandsworth, had spent a decade working in a senior role at Bell Pottinger, the public relations firm co-founded by Margaret Thatcher’s media adviser, Tim Bell, which ultimately crashed and burned in a scandal of its own making.
Never one to shirk self-praise, while working at Bell Pottinger, Bingle claims to have “created the best public affairs company in the UK”.
Today, Bingle’s own venture, Terrapin, employs as its chairman Peter John, the former Labour leader of Southwark Council. John was also the chair of the pan-city organisation of local authorities, London Councils, from 2018 to 2020. So it would be fair to assume that the contacts on John’s smartphone are choc-a-bloc with the movers and shakers of every local authority in the capital.
It was while John was in charge at Southwark that Lendlease and Delancey, two of the biggest in the development business, both landed hugely profitable schemes across the Aylesbury and Heygate estates and at the Elephant and Castle. Lendlease and Delancey have both, at times, been clients of Bingle’s Terrapin Group.
Another recent recruit at Terrapin is Stuart King – the Labour councillor in West Thornton ward in Croydon and now leader of the Labour group at the Town Hall. Until May this year, King had cabinet responsibility for the disposal of cash-strapped Croydon’s publicly-owned assets.
King has assured Inside Croydon that he has always acted perfectly properly, and never attended any discussions that might relate to the interests of clients of his employers. John, a lawyer by profession, will no doubt state much the same.
Terrapin are not so coy that they try to disguise their staff’s connections.
On the contrary: they flaunt the fact that they have insiders working for them.
“Stuart has been active in London Labour Party politics for over 20 years, including 15 years as a councillor,” King’s profile on his employers’ website states.
“A former parliamentary candidate, he is currently deputy leader of an outer London borough and has responsibility for a budget of £330million.” It may be three months out of date, but that’s the moneyshot right there.
King tells us that he has nothing to do whatsoever with any Terrapin client projects in Croydon. That though, didn’t stop King’s boss, Bingle, taking his other “boss”, Croydon North MP Steve Reed OBE, out for one of those notoriously sumptuous dinners last October.
Just what was discussed with Reed, the then shadow housing secretary, over the bouillabaisse and Châteauneuf-du-Pape, has never been disclosed. But it just might be that as well as the potentially cheap property disposals going on at Croydon Council, Crystal Palace’s new stand could have also been on the menu.
Selhurst Park is in Reed’s constituency, and Louis Carserides, one of the South Norwood councillors due to meet Terrapin’s Davis this week, also works as a parliamentary assistant for Reed. Carserides is also one of the “reserve” members of the planning committee.
According to Terrapin’s abbreviated version of Davis’s CV, “Kevin is a widely known and respected former leader of a London borough.” As with Stuart King, Terrapin’s profile of Davis is out of date. Three months is a long time in politics…
“Active in London politics for over 20 years, he has worked with developers and landowners to support them in shaping viable schemes that support the growth of the local area.” Terrapin’s profile writers may have been straying into the realms of understatement here.
“Creating schemes that maximise the benefit for everyone is important to him.” Which is nice.
Let’s fill in some of the gaps for you: Davis is a former Conservative council leader and a PR and lobbying veteran, having founded Cratus Communications in 2009, where he worked until 2015.
Davis even has experience of working for a Croydon-based PR agency, The Nudge Factory, where he was “
Davis left Nudge when he joined Terrapin, in October 2020.
Outside his public relations work, from 2014 to 2018 Davis was the leader of the ruling Tory group on Kingston council. That was followed by four years as Kingston’s leader of the opposition, until May 2022, when he lost his council seat in the local elections.
Davis’s election defeat may have owed something to his somewhat abrasive public conduct over the previous eight years, a period when, it’s fair to say, he attracted more than his fair share of controversial headlines for his arrogant and dismissive attitude towards the borough’s residents.
When confronted by a residents’ group protesting against overdevelopment, Davis caused outrage when he told them: “Don’t upset the people in power.”
Back in 2014, developers CNM Estates acquired the landmark Tolworth Tower on the A3 in 2014 and, despite widespread opposition, in January 2016 they got planning permission from Kingston Council to build four tower blocks there. CNM were clients of Cratus, the lobbying firm Davis founded and where he had worked until just a few months before.
In 2017, Davis’s council sent a delegation to Cannes for MIPIM, the annual property developers’ booze and hooker fest, thanks to a £45,000 contribution from… CNM.
Then, in January 2018, Davis’s son, Cameron, joined CNM as a trainee development manager.
As Private Eye reported, “When, at a public meeting, a young constituent and ‘community activist’ James Giles, 17, plucked up the courage to ask whether this might not constitute a conflict of interest, Davis Snr did not answer.
“But when the sixth former politely asked his question again on Twitter, Davis responded: ‘What an appalling little child you are. Who the hell do you think you are dragging my family into your vile conspiracy stories? I would hope that when you grow up you might realise how disgusting this is, sadly I doubt it’.”
For Davis, it seems that any dividing line that exists between lobbyists and local councils has been more than blurred for some time.
Davis himself travelled to the South of France to attend MIPIM in 2016, where Kingston council’s stand at the conference was shared with… Cratus Communications, the PR company that Davis had founded.
As the Rotten Boroughs column in Private Eye reported at the time, “This was shortly after the Surrey Comet revealed that developer Affinity Global was looking to build 700 homes (none of which will be ‘affordable’!), a swimming pool, leisure centre and football pitch on Green Belt land at the Chessington Golf Centre in the borough…
“By an amazing coincidence, Affinity Global became a client of Cratus on 14 October 2015 – the very day Kevin Davis resigned as chief operating officer of Cratus.
“It is possible to believe the company developed its multi-million-pound scheme in Kingston without being aware of Mr Davis’s position, and vice versa. But it does stretch the imagination.”
And it is Kevin Davis who now, as a business director at Terrapin, is working on behalf of Crystal Palace FC to help secure planning permission for their new stand.
It was Davis who emailed South Norwood ward’s three councillors to invite them, along with the council’s planning director, Heather Cheesbrough, to a meeting this week, so that he might brief them on exactly what is in store for the people living in the houses on Wooderson Close.
Many Crystal Palace fans, patiently waiting for news on their club’s bold new stand, hope for the best but tend to fear the worst. Nearly five years since the dream of a bigger Selhurst Park was first raised, some Eagles supporters were beginning to think it might never happen. One cheeky online poll found two-thirds of respondents thought Palace more likely to win a major trophy before the stand is opened.
But now that Terrapin and Kevin Davis, the man who once warned, “Don’t upset the people in power”, are on the case for Crystal Palace, surely anything must be possible?
How Inside Croydon broke the news that CPFC had hired Terrapin: Lobbyist to meet councillors over Selhurst stadium proposals
- Click here to read the council’s Place Review Panel’s 2018 report on the new Selhurst Park stand proposals
- If you have a news story about life in or around Croydon, or want to publicise your residents’ association or business, or if you have a local event to promote, please email us with full details at email@example.com
- Inside Croydon is a member of the Independent Community News Network
- By having a comment section, we provide all readers with an immediate “right of reply” on all our content. Details of how this works can be read by clicking here
- Inside Croydon works together with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, as well as BBC London News and ITV London
- Inside Croydon: 3.3million page views in 2021. Seen by 1.6million unique visitors in that 12-month period
Last time the relocation side agreement under 106 terms was made without speaking to the families, we have never been happy with it. It will not happen this time, we will have a voice
Interesting that the public relations businesses in South London have became more embedded amongst South London Labour Groups than Tories. Suppose the Tories are simply taken for granted that they will deliver what is wanted, but one day the proponents of this system which is just an indirect form of bribery might step back and look at the blight they produce and the constant reductions in the standard of life they deliver for their self enrichment.