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On a mission to uncover missing millions

09 July, 2020 — By John Gulliver

Nick Harding with his daughter Julia McCormack, on Prince of Wales Road

THERE are missing millions due to be paid to Camden council by developers – what has happened to them?

This is not a figment of someone’s imagination but the calculation of a retired forensic accountant who can produce prima facie evidence that the missing millions go back more than 15 years.

The man who is setting out to expose what he sees as the failure of the council to collect a recognised debt is Nick Harding who lives in Kentish Town.

His quarry is the development at the edge of Talacre Park that resulted in a block of flats almost overhanging Prince of Wales Road.

I have been shown his calculations and his trail of email exchanges going back years to a well-known architect who gave the opinion that the council has a case to answer. Can it? A lot of public money is at stake.

Harding sets out to show that the original deal to build the block in 2003 at a selling price of £651,000 was based on an agreement to share the profits once the building had been completed and the flats had been sold. According to Harding’s investigation the flats were sold in total for £20,757,590 so the amount owing the council under this kind of agreement known as an “overage” could run into something in excess of £3million.

The idea of the council and a developer finalising the share out of proceeds from a development of a project was suggested in this column recently by the Conservative councillor Steve Adams in his observations about a request for permission to build extra floors to a planned tower block in Somers Town.

Apparently, the idea of an “overage” arose out of the early development plans for the King’s Cross site – now housing giant offices of Google as well as a “campus” version of the Town Hall – because councillors and housing experts were disappointed that the massive site appeared to provide so little social housing and social facilities.

Harding has sent me reams of emails trailing exchanges between council officials and himself going back several years. A dogged investigator, he does not give up easily.

He looked into the original sale agreement and found the Schedule that set out the agreement for the Talacre development, and accordingly sent it to me.

Moreover, he scoured the copious details provided publicly by the Land Registry and noted the price paid for each flat in the block, hence he knew they eventually went for more than £20m.

In one response from a council official four years ago confirmation was given that no “overage” had yet been paid, pointing out that the “mechanism for payment” was “extremely complex”, depending on “assessments of multiple factors , many of which are so commercially sensitive and that require in-depth experts analysis”.

At one point, a council official stresses legal restraints hindering the disclosure of information and emphasises that “it is in the public interest that the decisions taken by the council are taken in a fully informed legal context. It is considered that the public interest in withholding the information outweighs the public interest in disclosing it.”

Harding of course has persisted in keeping in close contact with council officials who sometimes ask for more time to provide him with information. Meanwhile, no firm information has been provided by council officials who are still seeking exemption to provide it in a timely manner.

Harding says he cannot understand why the settlement of an “over­age” figure should take so long as other London councils have, apparently, settled similar agreements with developers.

Bearing in mind the Talacre development goes back at least 16 years, one is left wondering why the debt has not yet been paid. Harding believes only a public inquiry could settle it. While current Labour councillors are aware of the mystery that hangs over Talacre and the missing millions, the political class appear to have taken no action.

Bookseller goes into battle

BRIAN Lake (above), a bookseller, has taken up the cudgels where Nick Harding has left off in another of his battles with officialdom.

Harding had complained last year about lack of public consultation to road changes proposed to create cycle lanes in Prince of Wales Road. In what proved a controversial scheme, pedestrian safety points in the road were to be removed.

But the Ombudsman ruled – almost bizarrely – that Harding, who lives nearby in Queen’s Crescent, lived too far from Prince of Wales Road to have been included in the consultation process.

Brian Lake read about this ruling on exclusion and, in a sense, stepped in to take Harding’s place as he lives in Healey Street, only 50 yards from Prince of Wales Road.

Lake, who runs Jarndyce Antiquarian Booksellers near the British Museum in Bloomsbury, told me the “cycle” lane plan was “skewed” towards cyclists and removed protection for walkers. He said he had launched his complaint in March and is now aware that it is being handled by the Regeneration department at the Town Hall, the first step towards it going eventually to the Ombudsman.

Readers had letters published last week complaining about the lack of consultation, and the planned changes to be introduced this week.

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