Our housing correspondent, BARRATT HOLMES, reports on the cosy relationship between developers’ PR firm and a senior figure at the council
The property developer lobbyists who employ the leader of the Labour group at Croydon Town Hall are to stage two consultation sessions next week over plans to build a 30-storey tower and 450 flats on the site of the Croydon Park Hotel.
The developers, Amro Partners, reckon the development could be worth at least £200million. They purchased the Croydon Park Hotel from Croydon Council last year for a mere £24.9million. That is £5million less than the council had paid when they made the controversial purchase of the hotel in August 2018.
In charge of the cash-strapped council’s property disposals until May this year was Labour Councillor Stuart King.
Or should that be Councilor K-erch-ing? Because in his day job, King works for the Terrapin Group, whose clients include… Amro.
It is Terrapin who are organising the public drop-in consultation sessions, at the hotel on Altyre Road, on Thursday October 20 (5pm to 7.30pm) and Saturday October 22 (10am to 2pm).
Councillor King has always maintained that he acted entirely properly and excused himself from all and any discussions of property disposals involving clients of his employers during the time that he was deputy leader of the council (from October 2020 until May 2022).
For most of that time, King had the cabinet brief for “Croydon renewal”, including “assets management”, supposedly to maximise income from property sales in the bail-out of the bankrupted council.
Said a Katharine Street source today, “It’s the perception of a conflict of interest, though. It is not a good look for any councillor, but especially not for a senior Labour councillor.”
King told OpenDemocracy: “The disposal of Croydon Park Hotel was a matter that fell within my cabinet portfolio of responsibilities. Once I became aware that Amro were one of those bidding for the site, I declared that interest and recused myself from all further involvement.”
Our source said today, “Terrapin works on nods and winks, taking decision-makers out for lavish lunches and dinners. Although I am sure that everything Stuart King did will have been above-board, the perception will remain.
“However hard Stuart may have tried to distance himself from the decisions on this, there will inevitably still have been information flows. Terrapin sells its services to developers on the basis that it has the inside track with planners and with councils. And that’s why they give jobs to councillors and ex-councillors.”
The purchase of the Croydon Park Hotel in 2018 by the council was controversial because Croydon paid at least £5million more than the asking price for the property. It was doubly controversial, and remains a matter still in some dispute, because external auditors suggest that Tony Newman and Simon Hall, the council leader and cabinet member for finance at the time, failed to get the matter properly approved by the council.
No one has ever offered any explanation why Hall authorised spending so much more than the asking price for the Croydon Park Hotel. What was clear when the council purchased the 1970s-built hotel was that the property was on a lease that was coming to its end, and the hotel was in need of considerable refurbishment – while the site’s development value to the council may have made the purchase a profitable proposition for the local authority.
Council sources suggest that there was some opposition to the sale of the property, but pressure from the Department for Levelling Up for Croydon to start bringing in hard cash to begin to pay off its government bail-out could not be resisted.
“Besides,” the source conceded, “Croydon’s track record as a property developer with Brick by Brick is hardly a shining success.”
In a move that goes beyond the bounds of crass-ness, even for profit-hungry property tycoons, Amro and their co-developers, Flemyn, appear to want to call their Croydon development “The Lilibet”, presumably as some reference to a royal child, or perhaps even the childhood nickname of the late Queen Elizabeth, in a desperate-looking effort to boost sales.
On the Terrapin-run website, the developers say, “Our vision is for a new, high-quality, well-designed development providing circa 450 homes for local people to rent…
“Ranging from one-bedroom apartments to three-bedroom family homes, the mix of accommodation has been chosen to help meet Croydon’s housing needs.” One-tenth of the flats will be wheelchair accessible and, they say, “a proportion will be designated affordable homes”. The website says nothing about offering any social housing.
The developers are build-to-rent specialists, and they have been in discussion with the council about “an acceptable height” for their tower block, with their drawings indicating a building at least 30 storeys tall, much higher than the No1 Croydon building nearby or Altitude 21 next door.
“Croydon has a desperate need for affordable social rented homes, so we will be asking questions about this and about the height of the proposed building,” a tweet from the Addiscombe West ward councillors said this week.
The company which operated the Croydon Park Hotel went bust in 2020, during the first covid lockdown, when business slumped and landlords Croydon Council refused to give them a rent holiday.
The building has been empty much of the time since, although in the past couple of weeks it has been passed off as a Manchester hotel in a location shoot for a film with the working title Twisting My Melon, about the wild life and times of Happy Mondays frontman Shaun Ryder – these days more often providing the laffs on celebrity episodes of Googlebox.
Movie industry gossip suggested the film’s cast might include Jack O’Connell, Jason Isaacs, Holliday Grainger and Maxine Peake.
Even in this case, though, Croydon Council has missed out yet again.
Any fees paid by the producers for using the hotel as a movie location will be going to the current owners, Amro, rather than the Town Hall.
Read more: Council deputy leader gets new job working for lobbyists
Read more: Council flogs off hotel for less than £29.8m it cost to buy
Read more: Council starts the biggest fire-sale ever seen in south London
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