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A scandal that remains unresolved

Why has Camden Council still not managed to get its hands on millions of pounds due from a developer as an ‘overage’ payment?

31 December, 2020 — By Nick Harding and Brian Lake

The apartment building next to Talacre Park

AT the end of a year in which we have seen much publicity but no action from Camden to collect £millions owed for valuable land sold, here is where we are.

Camden agreed more than 15 years ago when it sold valuable public land at Talacre, Prince of Wales Road, to developers for £325,000, that if the 36 flats were sold for more than a defined amount, Camden would receive a share of that profit. This extra payment is called “Overage”.

The flats sold for very substantially more than was originally estimated. Camden know and accept that. The agreement states how the profit is calculated, using if necessary an “expert” as defined in the contract to determine the amount owed.

In mid-2020, it became apparent that Camden’s officers had given up attempting to collect the Overage payment on behalf of the people of Camden.

It is difficult to come to any other conclusion than that officers wanted the whole matter to be forgotten. That is when we, with considerable help from the CNJ, became publicly active.

We appealed for answers to Camden’s leader, Georgia Gould, on September 10 and she asked two cabinet members – councillors Danny Beales and Richard Olszewski – to discuss the situation with us. That discussion took place on October 5. The councillors accepted that a substantial amount is due to Camden.

Cllr Beales promised that a summary of the discussion would be sent to us and our questions answered.

Now, more than three months later, all we have received is a two-line email from Cllr Beales telling us on November 30 that he is sure Cllr Olszewski will contact us. Since then, nothing.

Writing again to Georgia Gould on December 2 has yielded no reply.

At the heart of the matter is Camden’s response in 2016 to a Freedom of Information request for details of previous contracts containing Overage clauses.

This is what Camden said: “Unfortunately, we do not hold a digital record of the information you requested relating to cases of council land sold to developers in the last 12 years. We consider that to collate, extract, examine and produce this information (ie possibly paper-based), would exceed the appropriate staff time limit and cost under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.”

This invites the question, which we hope will be asked: Are there other cases where Camden has failed to obtain payment of Overage similar to what we have been seeing on the Talacre development?

If Southwark and Westminster councils are able to provide full details of all Overage payments collected for the public purse, why cannot Camden?

If Camden’s contracts contained an obvious clause preventing occupation of flats before payment of Overage, it clearly hasn’t been enforced.

Who in their right mind would sell their property for less than its potential full value without security for the balance?

One reason now given by councillors for the failure to collect what is due, is that all the council officers involved have left Camden’s employ. This is not so.

Collection of Overage is above all a legal matter. The borough solicitor was and still is employed by Camden. The senior solicitor to whom he delegated authority, and who was responsible right from the very beginning, is still employed.

Who has allowed this falsehood to be presented to the public? And what about the councillors who, at least in theory, were in control of the original contract? Many of them re­main councillors to this day.

For several years, the unsatisfactory nature of the whole affair – public land sold for a pittance – has been apparent to those living around Talacre. They have tirelessly pointed out the absence of concern for the public interest.

In the absence of replies to our enquiries, we now insist that Camden takes the necessary action to tell the public what money is owed to the borough by developers and the means by which Camden will pursue claims on behalf of all residents.

Dubbed ‘vexatious’ by council

One of the authors of this Forum, Nick Harding, was declared to be “vexatious” and unable to obtain Freedom of Information responses. Consider what he was told by the aforementioned senior solicitor on 10 September 2012:

I have been passed your e-mail of 31 August 2012 by the Borough Solicitor. As you are aware a decision has been made that the Council will not enter into any communication with yourself in relation to the Dalby Street Scheme and you were declared a vexatious correspondent for freedom of information purposes on 25 January 2010 in relation to the matter. That being the case the Council will not be responding to your e-mail.

Principal Lawyer, Legal Services,
London Borough of Camden

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