Scandal of £3m due to Camden on Talacre property development (“Princes Park”)

A letter from Nick Harding to IARA copying in his to councillors.

Nick Harding njhnw5@gmail.com 020 7485 9397.  0780 180 2344

Sent to all Camden Councillors

Camden Council has failed to collect what it accepts is a debt owed to the people of Camden.  We estimate it to be over £3m.

We have made strenuous efforts to encourage Camden to collect this debt – but Councillors Gould, Beales and Olszewski have not followed up on our meeting and have failed to reply to emails.

Therefore we feel we have no other choice other than to write to you and all other Councillors asking you to look very carefully at this ‘Talacre Affair’, to ask questions, seek answers – and let the people of Camden know what action is going to be taken to collect the debt.

What follows is a Summary of the Talacre scandal where Camden under-sold prime council property and then failed to calculate and collect the “Overage” that we estimate to be over £3m which became due. Following the Summary is Supplementary information giving more detail to what is in the Summary. Do forward it to anyone you know who might be interested.

For more information, please visit the Talacrefacts website here and / or email either of us. Some notes of the Zoom meeting referred to may be available on request – they make interesting reading. 

Best wishes,

Nick and Brian

Nick Harding NW5 4ER.  njhnw5@gmail.com

Brian Lake NW5. Brian@Jarndyce.co.uk

Summary

(for more detail see Supplementary Information referenced to bracketed numbers below, links and this website “Talacrefacts”.

#1 Camden Land was sold to a private developer (9) for £651,000 in 2007. (1)

#2 Only £325,500 (half) was payable and paid before building started. The other half was part of an arrangement known as “Overage” whereby if the private flats are sold for more than a defined amount, the surplus is shared between the developer/owner and the Council. (2)

#3 In 2007, the 36 private flats were estimated by Camden and the developers in a “Development Appraisal” carried out by an associate of the buyer (9), to be expected to sell for £8,197,629 and the estimated profit to the developer to be £1,987,180. Local people believed that to be absurdly low but were comforted by the knowledge that when the actual profit was known, it would be much higher and so would produce a dividend for the Council in the form of “Overage” (2)

#4 The flats were sold in 2014 for £20,757,590. About 2 ½ times more than Camden and the developers “expected” 7 years earlier (3)

#5 The Conditional Sale Agreement appears to have no specific requirement that the overage be actually agreed or paid before permitting the flats to be occupied, unlike similar agreements made by other local authorities. (6)

#6 Between 2014 and mid 2020 local people expected a substantial amount to become payable to Camden under the overage arrangement and estimated it to be over £3m. Freedom of Information requests were made and up to 2020 were met with responses that it was complicated and being addressed. (4)

#7 In 2019/20. Camden’s replies began saying in effect that overage was owed, they didn’t know how much but anyway that it was not possible to collect it. (5)

#8 As a result of the above, an appeal was made to Cllr Georgia Gould, leader of Camden Council. She asked two Cabinet members, Danny Beales and Richard Olszewski (7) to hold a Zoom meeting on 5th October 2020 with Brian Lake and Nick Harding. The Councillors promised a written response within days. It is now over 5 months and nothing has been received. (8)

Supplementary Information to the Summary about the Talacre Development

1. £640,000 is in this Conditional Sale Agreement dated 19.4.05 for the cost of land that Camden sold. Still valid, only increased to reflect the change in the value of money to £651 000 on 6.7.2007 in this Supplemental Sale Agreement.

2. See the Conditional Sales Agreement here, 2nd Schedule page 24 “Overage provisions” and 4th Schedule page 28 “The Development Appraisal”. See 9 below for more on the source of the Development Appraisal.

3. The amount each private flat was sold for is shown in 3. Sales of Private flats here. The inclusion of the names of buyers on our publicly available website was objected to by the Land Registry and we removed it under threat of legal action, in spite of it being available from the Land Registry’s site.

4. FOI requests seeking information on the amount and collection of overage were made by Nick Harding, but in 2010 unknown to Camden’s legal department, a middle ranking Camden officer who now works for Tfl declared Harding “vexatious” meaning that Camden would no longer be required to reply to his requests. Consequently, FOI requests had to be submitted by others or via WhatDoTheyKnow.com.  Councillors requests are shown hereOthers, here. In 2018 Mr Harding began submitting requests again and received responses.

5. On 16.6.20 an FOI response confirmed that overage was due albeit that “For the record the Council does not accept your estimated figure of £3m in respect of overage owing”. See response to FoI 14205 (CAM2) of 16.6.20. It stated that “Any suggestion that this documentation was not drafted to professional standards is not accepted”.  At the Zoom meeting on 5.10.20, Executive Councillors were met at the request of Georgia Gould, leader of the Council.  These Councillors stated that outside Counsel had advised that Camden would not be able to collect the overage due. We find these 3 statements – Overage payable, documentation acceptable and Overage not collectable, impossible to reconcile.

This 16.6.20 response also states that “Section 106 agreements in relation to this development were drafted by in house lawyers with input/ clearance from Peter Harrison QC of Counsel”. The overage obligation has no connection with the s106 agreement. Peter Harrison QC died in 2013.

 6. We were interested to find out what experience other local authorities had in using overage as a means of valuing land to be sold to the public sector. So, in 2016, FOI requests were made to other Inner London Boroughs as shown here with responses. See individual pages for each borough. Although responses were uneven, Camden’s response  here was dismal when compared with those of most of the other boroughs.

7. Councillor Danny Beales, Cabinet Member for Investing in Communities, Culture and an Inclusive Economy.  Councillor Richard Olszewski, Cabinet Member for Finance and Transformation

8. In response to the Councillors maintaining that Counsel’s opinion advised that the Overage due was not collectable, they were asked for the texts of what Counsel was asked and Counsel’s response. Our experience being that it might be possible to clause the request so that the advice was what Camden officers wanted it to be and those who had followed this for years would need some convincing that officers wanted it to go through the legal process needed to procure payment.

9. Owners and Developers etc. The purchaser of the land from Camden was TRAC Properties Ltd of the UK owned by Prof. Kenneth Fulford and his son Charles Fulford. TRAC had bought a small adjacent area including the derelict stationmaster’s house from Network Rail. Camden initially refused to provide copies of these documents on the grounds of commercial confidentiality, but they were found to be available on the Land Registry site. For some time, Camden refused to respond to requests to confirm the authenticity of the documents. Eventually, a recently employed Camden officer intervened to require confirmation to be given. See FOIs 6 and 7 here.

The Development Appraisal ends “Not to be reproduced without expressed written consent. Copyright (c) SHAW CORPORATION 2005”. Christopher Shaw was a director along with the Fulfords, of TRAC2 Properties Ltd. Mr Shaw was also the head of Camden Town Unlimited, a quango involving Camden and the private sector.

The Developer was Findon Urban Lofts (sometimes Ltd, sometimes plc). Owned by two Laznik brothers who came to London from Israel after their family-owned development company had been accused of irregularities. They developed about five other projects in inner-London boroughs, as well as Talacre in Camden borrowing money on the Tel-Aviv stock exchange (TASE). The building contractor on two of the other London projects became insolvent, went into liquidation and was taken over by Findon who then employed them on the Talacre project which had not yet started construction.  It meant the builder and developer were in effect the same. In theory anyway, this should have had an impact on the overage calculation since the overage profit is defined in the overage agreement as after the (undefined “actual”) costs of construction.

Nothing said here is intended to suggest other than the need for transparency. However, Findon employed Carter-Ruck to threaten legal action for defamation. A solicitor with a practicing certificate willing to defend pro bono was found, but it didn’t go much further.

Nick Harding

Nick Harding

1 St Ann’s Gardens
London NW5 4ER
020 7485 9397
0780 180 2344