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Why the secrecy about these sales?

16 July, 2020 — By John Gulliver

Impression of Brill Place tower

WHAT’S happening to the millions of pounds developers pay Camden Council as part of their planning permission to build in the borough?

A mystery seems to hang over the money collected over the years.

Last week I reported the views of a retired accountant, Nick Harding, that several million pounds had still not been paid for a development in Talacre Park, Kentish Town, 15 years ago.

Though this was not mentioned at Monday’s videocall full council meeting by the Conservatives they did challenge Labour, asking why so little – apparently under £900,000 – had been received from developers and spent, whereas well over £40million had been paid to the Town Hall over the years. Squirrelled away, for a good reason, I am sure, in “reserves”. The Conservatives contrasted this with Westminster Council which, they claim, had spent £50m received from developers.

Labour seemed to dismiss the figures. And perhaps they are right to do so.

But surely all can be revealed by a thorough audit if it were permitted.

Why is there so much secrecy? In many cases the developers have been sold public land – so surely what happens to money extracted from the sale of public land, paid for over the years by the public in taxes, should be made public?

I have seen a leaked email sent by a council official the other week which refuses to release information about the “land sale agreement” with a developer for the sale of the land in Somers Town for a controversial tower block because that would “breach a signed agreement with the buyer making terms of the sale confidential”.

However, what could be released is the sale price of £17million for the land in Brill Place because the buyer issued a “press release” placing it “in the public domain”.

Thus, council officials – and presumably relevant councillors – are quite content that such “secret” sales can take place and that developers should have the right to decide whether details should be made public.

It’s a strange world.

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