CROYDON IN CRISIS: Mayor Perry and MP Philp give their backing for a scheme to build £100m-worth of flats by a shadowy company registered in the British Virgin Islands. EXCLUSIVE by STEVEN DOWNES
Croydon’s Tory Mayor, Jason Perry, and Chris Philp, the Conservative MP for Croydon South, have refused to answer straightforward questions about the identity of the directors behind a shadowy property firm based in the British Virgin Islands that wants to build 245 flats in the already crowded Purley district centre.
Both Perry and Philp are known to have extensive business interests of their own in the construction business and in off-shore property developments, respectively. It has not been possible to confirm whether either man, or their business partners or associates, have any financial interest in the development proposed for council-owned land in Purley town centre.
Neither Perry nor Philp, nor the council’s press office, have answered questions regarding Polanska Assets BVI, the ultimate owners of the long-term lease for the site of the multi-storey car park, former supermarket and closed-down leisure centre.
The property company wants to redevelop the site into a money-spinning, £100million set of flats.
The development looks likely to be a massive tax dodge, too, as by being registered off-shore in the Caribbean, Polaska Assets not only get to keep the identity of their owners secret, they also avoid paying significant amounts of tax to HMRC.
Despite having fewer than 25,000 inhabitants, the British Virgin Islands hosts more than 800,000 companies.
According to public records, Polaska Assets BVI are registered in an office near a place called Treasure Island. It might just be that the age of pirates is not entirely over…
Mayor Perry has misused his public office, and council-funded official publicity outlets, to lobby in favour of the development.
The presentations and website used by the developers so far have sought to distract attention from the humungous size of their proposed “retirement community” – larger than the so-called “Purley Skyscraper” scheme nearby that Perry and Philp spent years opposing. One Purley ward councillor has even lied on social media, claiming that the Polaska scheme is for “about 120 flats”.
The developers’ website seeks to focus the public’s attention on their (not-so-very-generous) offer of building a swimming pool – the website domain is purleypool.co.uk – rather than the scheme’s main purpose, which is to build hundreds of money-spinning retirement flats.
The whole “retirement community” schtick is relegated deep into the later pages of the Polaska website. The number of flats proposed is barely and rarely mentioned.
Mayor Perry and Tory-controlled Croydon Council, the property’s freeholders, are giving their wholesale backing to the deal. By building the new Purley Pool, Polaska expects to avoid any requirement to provide affordable housing within their massive development, as would normally be expected under planning rules. A scheme building 245 flats in London might usually expect to provide at least 80 affordable homes.
Neither the council nor Mayor Perry have been very forthcoming about the off-shore company behind the development plans. A shell company, Polaska Assets Ltd, was registered in Britain in August 2022, but has no assets and no track record in development. This company has a sole director, Paul Andrews, who has a string of other companies, some of which have what, at best, can be described as a chequered business history. None appears to have ever been involved in such a large-scale development before.
The UK-registered company is now believed to be just the latest part of a deliberately opaque nexus of corporate interests designed to avoid any proper public scrutiny – something which has rung alarm bells among a growing band of concerned Croydon residents.
The property speculators themselves say, “Polaska Assets Limited was established in 2004 as a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV), set up and managed by international and domestic property investors for the purpose of unlocking a sizeable regeneration opportunity on a key brownfield site in Purley.”
Elsewhere, they state: “Polaska Assets Limited is registered in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) and has common shareholding with Polaska Assets Ltd, a UK entity established to bring forward the regeneration opportunity.
“Polaska brings together people with centuries of experience in national and international property development. This depth and breadth of knowledge with our partners places us at the forefront of the most exciting development opportunities across the globe.” Which is nice, especially for those expected to make millions in profits, on council-owned property, and potentially avoid paying much, if any, tax.
And this at a time when Mayor Perry has gone to Government requesting a write-off of half-a-billion pounds’ worth of debt – using tax-payers’ money!
An article from 2009 in the Riddlesdown Recorder, a residents’ association newsletter, appears to confirm that Polaska have been long-term leaseholders of the site, and that they have therefore spent 20 years effectively “land-banking” – sitting on their hands without bringing forward any plans.
The Riddlesdown article confirms that it was the then Tory-controlled council that planned to close Purley Pool, in 2010, for demolition to be replaced by a “mixed-use” scheme. Jason Perry was a councillor at this time, and would become the cabinet member for development in the borough.
“The council are the freeholders of all the land but they are not submitting this application,” the Recorder recorded. “However, this scheme has been prepared in consultation with them.” So Croydon’s Tories have been working with Polaska for at least 14 years.
The proposals then were for “a cinema, four live-work units for use as craft shops, a café, car parking for 230 spaces (currently 424 spaces) and flats – possibly 286 dwellings but this may be increased”.
There was also a new library proposed, which suggests that the Tories had their eyes on flogging off the existing Purley Library site, too.
The Recorder said: “There are no plans to replace the existing swimming pool… Polaska Developments, who took on the Head Lease from Sainsbury’s about five years ago, were due to refurbish the store but never proceeded with this work.”
The Recorder embarked on a bit of editorialisation: “The Purley swimming pool is due to close in 2010 and together with the current run-down state of the car park and the vacant former retail store, perhaps now is the time for the council to consider demolition of this poorly designed and unattractive building and replace it on the same site with a modern swimming pool and car park.
“The general consensus seems to be that the people of Purley want a swimming pool rather than a cinema, so why can’t Croydon Council do something that the residents want for a change?”
The lead official on planning for the Riddlesdown Residents Association at the time was someone called Phil Thomas…
This week, sources at the Town Hall have said that over the last five or six years, any proposals to clean-up and improve the common areas around the multi-storey car park or the leisure centre have been resisted by council officials, who were reluctant to spend public money on a property that the leaseholders intended to demolish imminently.
Polaska have not had an entirely blemish-free corporate existence, even within the British Virgin Islands’ regulation-lite jurisdiction. Ten years ago, they faced possible strike-off action for failing to complete regulatory paperwork, hardly a sign of a well-run business.
Unravelling the nexus of public and private, corporate interests is not straightforward According to one respected Katharine Street source, “The council owns the freehold of the site. A long lease is currently held by Polaska [meaning the BVI-registered entity]. We then have a sub-lease from Polaska for the existing pool etc. while Polaska hold the lease for the other parts of the site (the long-closed Sainsbury’s).
“As part of the redevelopment, the existing leases and subleases will be collapsed and new long leases granted – including the council having a new long lease on the new leisure centre.
“Given Polaska [BVI]’s position as the current long leaseholder, any development of the site means the council needs to work with them.”
Polaska is staging another public consultation session tomorrow, enthusiastically supported by Purley’s gullible Conservative councillors, who describe the plans as “exciting” (in stark contrast to their previous condemnation of almost any development schemes involving flats in the area).
Attendance at tomorrow’s “consultation” is not open to all, however. The “workshop” session at Christ Church Purley is being ticketed, with places limited and Polaska determining who gets to attend “on a first-come, first-served basis”.
They say: “We will confirm your place via email along with a confirmation of times.” So not quite as transparent as it could be, then. Qu’elle surprise!
Residents have become very suspicious of the 245-flat scheme being disguised as a new pool, especially one operated by a tax-dodging off-shore company.
“Croydon Council shouldn’t have anything to do with them if the can’t file a simple statutory form,” said one.
“The Mayor, councillors and MP are ignoring our very reasonable concerns about the company behind this project,” said another.
“Residents are concerned about this ‘arrangement’ with Polaska BVI, the lack of any proper, open public consultation and the absence of satisfactory responses to their questions by elected representatives.
“Our councillors seem to be mere ‘footsoldiers’ quoting from a script that has been written for them.”
Read more: Tories warn residents: don’t dare complain about Purley pool
Read more: Millionaire pulls plug on Mayor Perry’s ‘big idea’ for Allders
Read more: Residents backlash over Perry’s 200-flat scheme at Purley pool
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
- Inside Croydon – as seen on TV! – has been delivering local community news since 2010. 3million page views per year in 2020, 2021 and 2022.
- If you want real journalism, actually based in the borough, you should consider paying for it. Please sign up today. Click here for more details
- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
- As featured on Google News Showcase
- We offer FREE ads to community groups when they have members who are paid subscribers to Inside Croydon
- Our comments section on every report provides all readers with an immediate “right of reply” on all our content
- Inside Croydon is a member of the Independent Community News Network
- Inside Croydon works together with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, as well as BBC London News and ITV London
- ROTTEN BOROUGH AWARDS: Croydon was named among the country’s rottenest boroughs for a SIXTH successive year in 2022 in the annual round-up of civic cock-ups in Private Eye magazine