Wednesday 8 November 2017

The murk behind Brent Council's Bridge Park deal that was opposed by the community last week

Bridge Park Complex with Unisys on the horizon

The Kilburn Times LINK today reports on a heated consultation meeting regarding the redevelopment of Bridge Park, Stonebridge, and the surrounding area including the Unisys landmark building. There were demands for the land sale to be halted.

The newspaper quotes Jay Martin of the Bridge Park Community Council as saying:

This is not a consultation, it's a fait accompli. It looks like this deal has already been done and decided. There are moral questions and legal questions to answer. There's the possibility that this whole thing might end up in a judicial hearing. 

 The moral and questions that Martin refers to are presumably directed at Brent Council's off-shore partners in this development.

The late and sorely missed Cllr Dan Filson who, while a Labour councillor, had a strong streak of independence, responded to Cllr Pavey's suggestion that tax havens had to be tackled at national level rather than local government, with this comment on Wembly Matters LINK:

I must say I was surprised that whilst mentioning the two companies involved were neither incorporated nor registered in the UK, the Cabinet paper did not mention that they were registered in tax havens namely Luxembourg and the BVI, nor that the leading shareholder in the holding company was a convicted fraudster. A quick Google search revealed this.

Possibly the council officers preparing the report felt these issues did not matter given the safeguarding phrase that the decision of Cabinet would be subject to meeting financial scrutiny (quite how these financial checks would succeed given that they had not succeeded in the months leading up to Cabinet was not made clear!).

The wider issue of the ethics of dealing with tax haven companies wasn't touched upon at all nor the fraudster angle. I understand Councillor Pavey's position that it needs government action to deal with tax haven companies (to say nothing of persons being company directors of overseas companies who, by my book, should be disqualified from holding any positions of trust in any company trading or owning land in this country).

However Brent can have its own policies; but what should they be here? The land south of the North Circular Road at Stonebridge Park has been a derelict eyesore for a couple of decades. Brent can engineer development here by intervention using such land as it has as a bargaining tool. If we take the ethical route and don't treat with tax haven companies will we get better or worse terms from other companies? Conceivably could Councillors be surcharged for not getting "best value" in a deal? Will any action happen on this site at all for another decade?

I don't know how I would respond on these issues. My disappointment was that no attempt has been made to address them before this particular decision came to Cabinet despite the identity of these 2 companies being known for some time, years even. So the Cabinet was obliged to agree to a deal involving these two companies without a financial appraisal in front if it and without a stated policy on dealing with tax haven companies. It leaves an unpleasant taste.
Ex Inspector of Taxes, Philip Grant, LINK revealed a link with Quintain:

 When offshore companies are involved, that will always raise suspicions about who is really behind them, and whether tax avoidance may be involved, although in this case you can read a little about GMH on Wikipedia:-

'The General Mediterranean Holding (GMH) is a financial holding company established in 1979 in Luxembourg City, in southern Luxembourg, founded by Anglo-Iraqi businessman Nadhmi Auchi.

GMH is a diverse business group with activities in Banking & Finance, Real Estate & Construction, Hotel & Leisure, Industrial, Trading & Pharmaceuticals, Communications & IT and Aviation.'

The (publicly available) details do not say in which overseas territory Harborough Invest Inc. is incorporated, or resident for tax purposes.

By chance, I have come across GMH's "agent", Nick Shattock, before, when I was an Inspector of Taxes, and he was a director of Quintain Estates and Developments Plc (having previously been a partner in a firm of City solicitors). That information is on public record, and (of course) I cannot disclose anything which happened when I was responsible for dealing with the Quintain group's company tax affairs, because of Civil Service confidentiality.

As a (past) director of Quintain (the developer behind Wembley Park), it is likely that Mr Shattock has already had dealings with Brent's Strategic Director of Regeneration and Growth, Andy Donald. The report to Cabinet proposes that negotiations over the "deal" between Brent and GMH should be left in the hands of Mr Donald (as the "deal" with Galliford Try over the Willesden Green Library Centre redevelopment was).

Persuaded? Definitely not!
In January of this year Cabinet approved the land deal for Bridge Park nd Labour defeated Cllr John Warren's move at Full Council to have it debated. The is an extract from my report of the meeting:
In the course of the resultant discussion Cllr Warren, speaking to Muhammed Butt, Leader of the Council, referred to 'Your friend Mr Auchi'.  Sir Nadhmi Shakir Auchi is Chairman of the off-shore British Virgin Islands company General Mediterranean Holdings (GMH) which is Brent Council's partner in the redevelopment of Bridge Park.  Muhammed Butt is the lead member for the conditional land sale of the Bridge Park site to GMH.

At the Brent Cabinet on January 16th Cllr Margaret McLennan, Deputy Leader of the Council, said that she was 'thrilled' by the Bridge Park deal. LINK

Auchi is controversial because of a 2003 allegation of  fraud LINK and of course the whole issue of tax havens and tax avoidance is a current political issue with Jeremy Corbyn promising action by a future Labour Government.

Cllr Thomas intervened to call for Cllr Warren to withdraw his statement about 'Your friend Mr Auchi' directed at his leader, as the Council Meeting was being streamed and he wouldn't want a 'wrong impression' to be given. Warren, saying he couldn't remember exactly what  he'd said,went on to say, 'Mr Auchi has connections with the Labour Party. Let me say that. That is what I was referring to.'
The alleged link goes back to 2001 when the Guardian published an article entitled 'A Tycoon, a Minister and Interpol' LINK and involved Keith Vaz MP.


Anonymous said...

One up to the community!!!!

Anonymous said...

OT - worth checking out the BBC article on use of land (

Brent is 77% built on - far higher than neighbouring boroughs of Harrow, Camden, Westminster and Barnet.

Scott said...

Thank you for sharing that. It reminds me of that really sad video that Quintain made (they don't realise its sad) which shows all the parkland at Wembley - destroyed by a borough with no real plan.
Also discovered the electric tram railway recently - Another thing from the past we need to bring back to tackle air pollution from such over development.

Anonymous said...

Scott I agree with everything that you say here.
As the daughter of one of the people who really helped to pioneer the really Wonderful Wembley which was a beautiful verdant clean, green and orderly scene it really is disappointing (to put it mildly) to see what it has now come down to. It all could and should have been so much better. There has been no proper vision or management of the overall project and Butt and co. have just cow-tailed to the development companies.

Unknown said...

It very good for our community to have this kind of projects. Take a look at wembley the vision is becoming a reality. A World class Wembley is far better than a run down buildings.

BPCC said...

FIRSTLY, BRIDGE PARK IS NOT SOLD! - An application to block the sale along with strong evidence was successfully lodged with HM Land Registry (HMLR).
Save The Bridge Park Legacy (Dubbed the new "Black Canary Wharf").
Brent council to date has not come to the negotiating table, they have also refused the HMLR Tribunal process. Then in response to our offers to negotiate the development in a sustainable and self-sufficient way for the community. Brent instead opted to side with the offshore developer and use community monies to take the us, the community to the High Court. NOTE: This Sale of the was never put out to public tender and the protective Covenant to prevent the sale was removed after GLC closed.
3.5acres prime land A406 NW London. Open market value est. £50+ million. Yes, HPCC designed and built by Us and owned by You the Community. HPCC and the Community actually laid bricks and mortar…….
Bridge Park Community Council Steering Group (BPCC) are making a rally call pls give £50 or £100 or £1k donation towards our £25k of £100k legal fight.
Please support this Legacy or help raise funds towards our Court case or the Building Plans:

Updated position Q3, 2018:
To Support:
The Vision:

Unknown said...

Interesting comments, but made very difficult to follow due to the black script on green background.. make this easier to read and I will gladly repost to all my contacts.

Anneth said...

More than just interesting it is yet another form of day light robbery and injustice against a community that are constantly having to struggle to support each other POSITIVELY when those around them only want people to believe all the negatives that is perpetually reported in the media