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Saturday, February 17, 2007

Is Pipey Telling Me Porkies?

I've always been one of Julian's greatest supporters. As Chief Whip of the Labour Group my job is to ensure that our Councillors engage effectively in the decision-making process, are fully aware of Cabinet policy and - most importantly of all - adhere to Mayoral and Cabinet decisions. There's no room for maverick behaviour in a well-run Council. My relationship with our elected Mayor is a vital one - and that relationship depends upon mutual trust.

A typical Coral's bookmakers shopSo when the issue of the casino plans for The Old Town Hall came up and my spoofster claimed that I was wrong and that the intended occupier was merely a Corals betting shop, I was somewhat perplexed as you can well imagine and my first thought was to turn to Julian. After all, a government-sponsored casino pumping cash into the Town Hall coffers is one thing, but a tatty betting shop in our main shopping centre is something else, especially when we've already got quite enough betting shops in Hackney. And when I penned my original article about Victor Chandler it was on the basis of information provided to me by a normally trustworthy friend down the pub.

Not only did the Mayor confirm that Corals was indeed the new leaseholder, but he also assured me that Hackney Council had tried to buy the building when the HSBC branch shut, so that the building could be used to help the regeneration of central Hackney, but the freeholders refused to sell it to the council. It was a convincing and reassuring statement that I had absolutely no reason to disbelieve.

Julian, Dick, Anne, Georgie and their dog Timmy go to workNow here's where I let you in on a secret. Ever since I read "The Famous Five Have a Mystery to Solve" as a little boy I've wanted to be a secret investigator.

One of the reasons I'm so fond of Pipey is that the oldest and most intelligent of the Famous Five is called "Julian" (I always thought of myself as more like "Georgie"). Being a detective is not something I have much experience of, having made a career in public relations. After all, a detective tries to find out the truth and tells you about it, whereas a PR consultant works out what you should be told and pretends it's the truth.

But when a certain Andy Philkins commented that my spoofster and I should "check the Land Registry" and asked "how come the previous refusals to grant planning permission for the antenna and internal works have suddenly been overturned and granted?", I realised that this was my moment. "Lukie" was ready for action.

The results from the Land Registry were a surprise to me. The Old Town Hall freehold is registered to Nadan Properties Ltd., a palindromic small property developer with many different registered addresses over the past few years. The Old Town Hall leasehold is registered to Sports (Bookmakers) Ltd. of 66 Wigmore Street, W1. Obviously this must be a subsidiary of Corals, so I checked the address in the web. Vantis plc (accounting, business and tax advisory group) turns out to be the principal occupier of the building, along with its Training and Consultancy divisions PASS Training and PASS Consultants (PASS is an acronym for Procurement Advice and Support Service) and a host of other companies presumably registered at their accountant's address or perhaps previous occupants. Despite a lot more searching I turned up no connection to Coral, or its parent company Ladbrokes.

VC - a handsome man who could have made a fine MayorSo I checked Victor Chandler's gaming website and was surprised to find them list the company address as... you've guessed it... 66 Wigmore Street, W1. Now that puzzled me, because it seemed highly unlikely to me that two gaming companies described as "arch-rivals" would share an accountant - Chinese walls or no Chinese walls.

By this time I had progressed from Enid Blyton to James Bond and was getting a bit carried away. It took my wife and Planning Subcommittee member Linda to calm me down and ask whether I'd checked the planning register. After all, the truth about the story I'd been told by my mate in the pub would surely be confirmed or otherwise by the Council's own planning files for The Old Town Hall.

And there it was - the applications by site owners Nadan and leaseholders Sports through their agents PASS (both of Victor Chandler's registered address 66 Wigmore Street) - initially refused and then granted. But strangely, the final entry on the register is by Coral Estates (the estate management company of Corals, not the Bulgarian holiday home company!). And it was for discharge of the conditions previously imposed on Sports (Bookmakers) Ltd.

So my informant was correct, but I'm left none the wiser. Is it all a huge coincidence? Is it evidence of cartel operations between Ladbroke Coral and their arch-rivals Victor Chandler? And why the sudden change of planning policy? Has Julian struck a deal for the new casino and not told me about the previous planning difficulties?

Julian speaks on "Raising Our Gaming"One thing that I did notice from the planning register information was that in 1997, when Midland Bank was the leaseholder, the building freehold was The London Borough of Hackney. By 1999 the freehold was transferred to HSBC and by 2003 it had been sold to Nadan Properties.

So Hackney Council couldn't possibly have negotiated to purchase the freehold when HBSC quit because this was a maximum of three or four years after Hackney Council had sold the freehold of the same building - and this was a period of substantial property inflation in the Borough.

The Audit Commission would have had some serious words about a local authority selling property one minute and buying the same property back at a much higher price shortly after.

So although I'm sure there's a rational explanation for all this, I can't figure out what it is. And I must admit that I'm left wondering if Pipey hasn't been telling me porky pies.


Gronwyn Fitzsimmons said...

Julian telling porkies? I'd never believe it!

Anonymous said...

Whats the plan for the empty building on Mare Street opposite the Town Hall? Casino?

Luke Akehurst said...

Anonymous - I see you are one of our thicker constituents. Presumably that's because you went to school in Hackney.

If you had learnt to read you would know that we've dealt with Town Hall Square and Philip Anschutz. We've now moved on the The Narrow Way and Victor Chandler. Do try to keep up!

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