Save Wornington College

saveworningtonMembers of the Grenfell Action Group offer our whole hearted support to members of the local community who have set up a Save Wornington College campaign in an attempt to save this vital North Kensington educational establishment. We urge our readers to sign the change.org petition calling on the Council to reverse their decision to turn this much loved institution into more unafforadble housing and preserve it’s educational use.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/saveworningtoncollege/

 https://www.change.org/p/royal-borough-of-kensington-and-chelsea-save-wornington-college

The Grenfell Action Group believe that the RBKC have not acted in an appropriate manner with their acquisition of the Wornington Road site and we wish to challenge the Council’s motives for spending £25 million of Council Tax payers money on the freehold of Wornington College without consulting or informing any of the public about their  decision to do so. It is our understanding that not even our local Labour Group Councillors were informed of the Ruling Party’s decision, taken by RBKC’s Cabinet in April 2016, to go ahead with the purchase of the aforementioned freehold!

The Grenfell Action Group also have serious concerns relating to the role that a senior Council Officer called Tony Redpath may have played in helping RBKC secure the freehold of the Wornington College site. Mr Redpath is both the Royal Borough’s Director of Strategy and Local Services and, for some inexplicable reason, sits on the Board of Governance of Wornington College.

The Grenfell Action Group simply cannot understand why an employee of RBKC should be involved in the day to day running of a local independent educational establishment (unless, of course, he was sent there with a rather sinister mission by the Council). We have sent a Freedom of Information request to RBKC that we hope will reveal the extent of Mr Redpath’s involvement in the purchase of the freehold of the College building while, at the same time, sitting as a KCC Board member of the College with the potential to influence the sensitive decision to sell the aforementioned freehold. This would be most irregular and we believe could possibly constitute a direct and serious conflict of interest!

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We have written to the Town Clerk and asked him to examine these concerns very closely. Our letter to Mr Holgate, sent on 13th January 2017, is published below:

Dear Mr Holgate,

I am writing to you concerning the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea’s recent agreement to purchase of the freehold of the Kensington and Chelsea College building in Wornington Road.

Please can you explain what a RBKC Council Officer, namely Tony Redpath, is doing occupying a position as an external member on the Board of Governors at the Kensington and Chelsea College and if it is usual practice for senior Council Officers to occupy such a position on an independent body while under the employ of the local Council?

http://www.kcc.ac.uk/about-us/the-college/governance/governors/

It is the understanding of our community that Tony Redpath joined the Board of Governors on the 25 March 2014 and, we believe, that this would have put him in a position to potentially influence the Kensington and Chelsea College’s decision to sell the freehold of the Wornington Road when it came up for sale in early 2016.

The decision to purchase the freehold of the Wornington Road site for a sum of £25 million was taken, without any consultation with the public, by the RBKC Cabinet in April of 2016.

It is our assumption that Tony Redpath in his role as Director of Strategy and Local Services at RBKC would have had some input into the Council’s decision to purchase the aforementioned freehold and we believe that this may have constituted a serious “conflict of interest”.

It would appear that Tony Redpath was in a position at the RBKC Council to influence the purchase of the College freehold while, at the same time, being a member of the Board of Governors at Kensington and Chelsea College and, therefore in a position to influence the sale of the College building.

Please can the RBKC explain why Mr Tony Redpath then took a “sabbatical” from the Board of Governors at Kensington and Chelsea College, between 16th February 2016 and 31st December 2016, at the exact time that the Cabinet at RBKC went ahead and purchased the  freehold of the College building? This could be construed as giving the uncomfortable impression that Tony Redpath had been involved in both sides of setting up the deal between the Council and the College but conveniently disappeared from the scene at the time of the “smoking gun”.

I would like to make an official complaint against Mr Redpath for his involvement in this apparent “conflict of interest” and I would like the Council to explain in detail why they appear to have allowed one of their Officers to become involved in both the purchase of the Kensington and Chelsea College freehold and the sale of the same freehold?

If I am not satisfied with the response that I receive from your investigation I will be pursuing my right to refer this matter to the Independent Local Government Ombudsman.

Regards,

**********

The Grenfell Action Group fully expect the Town Clerk to ignore the concerns that we have raised and find excuses for RBKC to explain away the behaviour of this senior Council Officer. It is our opinion, however, that this whole affair stinks to high heaven and has a genuine whiff of scandal about it and the Council and Mr Redpath can rest assured that we will continue to work tirelessly to unearth any evidence showing that our suspicions are justified.  

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Paget-Brown – Digging His Own Grave?

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Over the past couple of months the Grenfell Action Group have been attempting by various means, including use of the Freedom Of Information Act, to shed light on Council Leader Nick Paget-Brown’s attendance at a private dinner to which he was invited by the organisers of the MIPIM conference at Olympia in 2015. We wanted to know who paid for Cllr Paget-Brown’s attendance at this dinner, whether any matters of Council business were discussed and whether any such discussions were witnessed and recorded by Council officers.

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2017/01/02/paget-brown-and-mipim/

On 5th December we received a reply to our enquiry from RBKC informing us that the Council had no record of Cllr Paget-Brown’s attendance at any MIPIM dinner in 2015 and directing us to his declaration of gifts and hospitality on the Council website. From his declaration of gifts and hospitality we were able to confirm that Paget-Brown had indeed “attended by invitation as a guest at a dinner held in the Belvedere Restaurant, London W8 to mark the MIPIM conference at Olympia”. The statement claiming that the Council had no record of Paget-Brown’s attendance at the MIPIM dinner was therefore incorrect.

A subsequent complaint to Robin Yu, RBKC’s Information Governance and Management Officer, about the inaccuracy and paucity of information provided in the Council’s initial response yielded the following more detailed explanation:

“The Leader was not representing the Council and the Council did not pay for the dinner. He has declared his attendance at the dinner in accordance with the Members’ Code of Conduct which requires councillors to declare hospitality received with a value of more than £50. We do not hold information on who paid for his ticket…. Councillors are only subject to FOI when conducting Council business, for example as Cabinet Members, Committee Members and Members appointed to represent the Council on outside bodies.”

Notwithstanding this claim that Cllr Paget-Brown was not representing the Council at the MIPIM dinner, we have evidence that strongly suggests he was. This is contained in an email that he sent to a member of the Grenfell Action Group in response to a query we sent him about his motives for attending the dinner. In an email to us, dated 30th September 2016 Cllr Paget-Brown stated :

“Last year I attended a MIPM dinner in order to hear about some of the London-wide examples of estate regeneration which are underway.”

Given that he has no private business interests in real estate or property development we believe this statement strongly suggests that Cllr Paget-Brown was indeed representing the Council at the MIPIM dinner. This view is further supported by the fact that he clearly felt obliged to register his attendance at the dinner in his ‘declaration of gifts or hospitality received’. According to official guidance issued to councillors they are only required to declare ‘gifts or hospitality received’ in connection with the performance of their duties as councillors. This strongly suggests that Cllr Paget-Brown believed he had been invited to the dinner specifically because of his position as Leader of the Council and that he had attended the dinner in that same capacity.

With largescale ‘regeneration’ either planned or already underway in RBKC lucrative business opportunities exist with the potential for massive profits to be made from the Council’s property portfolio. Any matters relating to the sale and development of Council land should therefore be fully open and transparent and not conducted at private lunches  or dinners, paid for by property market movers and shakers, at posh restaurants in Kensington, or anywhere else for that matter!

We will continue to press RBKC for the full details of Cllr Paget-Brown’s attendance at this MIPIM dinner and we will be writing to the Council to register a formal complaint against the conduct of the Leader, and any other senior councillors who are wined and dined privately by PR companies, property speculators, or other vested interests. We do not believe that the Leader of the Council, who wields considerable power and influence over the Council’s lucrative and highly sensitive property portfolio, should be entertained privately by a group which represents international property developers and speculators who may stand to benefit from future development contracts awarded by RBKC.

We do not believe that Cllr Paget-Brown should have accepted this private invitation from MIPIM, and if he felt it appropriate to do so, then he should have discussed this beforehand with Cabinet and been accompanied to the dinner by a Council officer so that that details of any conversations held and contacts made could be recorded for the benefit of the Council, the relevant oversight and scrutiny committees and the public. Cllr Paget-Brown seems to have forgotten that he is elected to represent everyone in RBKC and not just the 1%ers. The sooner he wakes up to this fact and understands that he needs to be open to institutional and public scrutiny of any meetings he attends or discussions he holds regarding Council business then the better it will be for his own reputation and for democratic accountability at RBKC!

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Rocky, MIPIM and the Lobbyist

bingle1Back in September 2016 the Hornet’s Nest website published a blog raising concerns about the relationship between Rock Feilding-Mellen, RBKC’s Cabinet Member for Housing, Property and Regeneration, and a Public Relations operative by the name of Peter Bingle from a company called Terrapin Communications.

It is not really clear to the Grenfell Action Group what advantage the residents of North Kensington might obtain through the services of Terrapin Communications who claim to be a leading public affairs agency advising on property and whose website states that the company “combine experience with the buzz of a coming of age agency”. Terrapin Communications then, cringingly, go on to boast that “the Terrapins are the masters of the art of self preservation. They know when to stick their heads out and when to keep them in their shells”.  Let’s hope this is the case for Rocky’s sake!

http://www.terrapincommunications.co.uk/

At the time, the Hornet’s Nest blog questioned why Rock Feilding-Mellen would want to meet with Mr Bingle, who paid for the meeting, what was discussed at the meeting and why wasn’t a senior RBKC Council Officer on hand to record what matters were on the agenda?

http://fromthehornetsnest.blogspot.co.uk/2016/09/still-on-subject-of-rocky.html

Following this revelation a member of the Grenfell Action Group wrote to the Leader of RBKC and questioned the legitimacy and appropriateness of why a representative of RBKC would need to meet  with Terrapin Communications and to ask what was discussed at this meeting? We received the following response from Cllr Paget-Brown on the 30th September 2016 that sought to normalise the meeting and portray the relationship between Cllr Feilding-Mellen and Peter Bingle as entirely appropriate and above board.  Cllr Paget Brown responded as follows:

“Rock Feilding-Mellen attended a lunch with Peter Bingle of Terrapin Communications as London Councils, unsurprisingly, has an interest in London’s housing shortage and we need to make common cause across the Boroughs and across the political divide to address it. London Councils makes no decisions on individual housing and regeneration projects. The lunch was to discuss London’s response to the challenge of the new Housing Act and was also attended by a senior Labour Councillor from another Borough”.

What Paget-Brown failed to mention is that this was not the first time that Feilding-Mellen had met with Peter Bingle and that other senior Ruling Party Councillors appear to have been wined and dined by Peter Bingle and Terrapin Communications on numerous previous occasions. The Grenfell Action Group do not believe that the Cabinet Member with responsibility for handling the Borough’s sensitive property portfolio should be accepting free hospitality from a private property public relations company.

The RBKC have their own Media Communications Department at Hornton Street led by Martin “carpet bomber” Fitzpatrick that is funded to the tune of hundreds of thousands of pounds so one really has to wonder why senior Councillors should feel the need to accept hospitality from an outside public relations agency?

A look at Rock Feilding-Mellen’s declaration of acceptance of hospitality and gifts shows that there was a long standing relationship between Terrapin Communication and the RBKC Cabinet Member for Housing Property and Regeneration. The pair are first recorded meeting for a dinner, valued at £60, at an un-named restaurant and paid for by Terrapin Communications on a claim form submitted on 31st March 2015. They met again for an £80 dinner in a un-named restaurant in a claim form submitted on 3rd Feburary 2016. While Councillor Fielding-Mellen actually submitted his claim form for their third dinner together (at the meeting referred to in the Hornet’s Nest blog) on the very same day that Cllr Paget-Brown, Leader of RBKC, wrote to the Grenfell Action Group claiming that there was nothing underhand in their relationship. Rather a funny coincidence one might think!

https://www.rbkc.gov.uk/council-and-democracy/councillors-and-committees/councillors/register-members-interests

The Grenfell Action Group are also aware that Councillor Feilding-Mellen travelled to Cannes to attend MIPIM earlier this year. Cllr Feilding-Mellen has claimed that he was not representing the RBKC but, instead, paid for his own ticket and visited this international property fair as a representative of his own property development company called Socially Conscious Capital. It is a little disconcerting to find that Peter Bingle and his contacts from Terrapin Communications were also present at MIPIM and that Cllr Feilding-Mellen is on record as having met with Terrapin Communications in the run up to MIPIM. While it is not for the Grenfell Action Group to suggest that anything underhand might have occurred  in Cannes it is not difficult to imagine the kind of conversations and introductions that might have taken place were Feilding-Mellen and Peter Bingle to have crossed paths in the South of France. Just remember this is where Mr Bingle likes to boast that “they will spend their time representing clients, meeting politicians and making new friends”!!!!

http://www.terrapincommunications.co.uk/news/article/terrapin-prepares-for-mipim/

Councillor Paget-Brown also failed to mention that another senior Ruling Party Councillor has a long standing relationships with Terrapin Communications. Councillor Daniel Moylan’s relationship with the property Public Relations firm goes back much further according to Council records. Cllr Moylan first appears to have accepted hospitality from Terrapin back in 2013 when he enjoyed a a number of trips at their expense to the theatre with accompanying drinks and a dinner and night out at the Proms. In 2014 Cllr Moylan is on record of accepting a drinks invitation with Peter Bingle and in 2016 Moylan’s diary  records numerous meetings with Peter Bingle and Terrapin Communications that have included dinners and trips to the Barbican and other concert venues. Of course, Cllr Moylan is far too grand to trouble himself with actually declaring the total value of  this hospitality but one can assume that the net total of these sojourns could well add up to a four figure sum. The Grenfell Action Group believe that this is a lot of hospitality for a RBKC Councillor to receive from a private company and we wish to know who else at RBKC has benefitted from these dinners and trips out to the theatre and concert halls?

The Grenfell Action Group will be writing to the Leader of the RBKC asking why Cllr Moylan and Cllr Feilding-Mellen have repeatedly accepted hospitality from Terrapin Communications and why a senior Council Officer has not been present when meetings between Terrapin and senior RBKC Councillors have taken place. It is correct protocol for Councillors not to meet to discuss RBKC business with private companies or individuals without having these meetings witnessed and recorded by Council Officers. The fact that Feilding-Mellen has travelled to MIPIM in Cannes, where Bingle and Terrapin have a regular presence, only further muddies these murky waters!

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Paget-Brown and MIPIM

paget-brownOn 4th December 2016 a member of the Grenfell Action Group wrote to RBKC, under Freedom of Information legislation, after it had come to our attention that the current Leader of the Council, Nicholas Paget-Brown, had attended a private dinner at the invitation of MIPIM in 2015.

For those not in the know, MIPIM is an elite property fair that usually takes place at Cannes and sometimes at Olympia in West London. MIPIM brings together the most influential players from all international property sectors – including office, residential, retail, healthcare, sport, logistics and industrial – offering unrivalled access to the greatest number of property developers projects and speculators worldwide. It is designed to facilitate business between investors, corporate end-users, local authorities, hospitality professionals, industrial and logistics players and other real estate professionals.

We believe that attendance at this event by the Leader of the RBKC Council signifies the Council’s intention to destroy local communities by entering into lucrative property deals involving the sale of land, presently used for social housing, to the highest bidder. The Grenfell Action Group do not believe that any good can come from the association between our Council and MIPIM and that the interests of  the residents of North Kensington are not served by attendance at this shady, elitist and highly discriminatory event.

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2016/12/04/rbkc-and-mipim-the-search-for-the-truth/

In order to better understand the motivation for why the Leader of RBKC would want to  attend MIPIM  we asked the Council to provide us with details of who had paid for Cllr Paget-Brown to attend this event. We went on to pose related questions such as who had Cllr Paget-Brown met with at MIPIM and what matters had he discussed?

Of course, we did not expect the Council to be forthcoming with the facts that we had requested but we were nonetheless surprised by the evasive and equivocal way in which our request for this information was treated. We received the following response from RBKC on 5th december 2015:

“The Council hold no records in relation to any attendance by Cllr. Paget-Brown at any MIPIM dinner in 2015 or any of the matters you mention in your paragraph above.  Cllr. Paget-Brown’s list of declarations of gifts and hospitality can be found here on the Council website.”

When we examined Cllr Paget Brown’s declarations of gifts and hospitality we learned little about his attendance at MIPIM but we learned a great deal more about how the Leader of our Council spends much of his time supposedly representing his constituents best interests. We will be blogging on this fascinating subject in due course and shining a light on the kind of relationships the Leader of RBKC cultivates and believes it proper to pursue.

As for the subject of our original enquiry, we learned only that on October 21st 2015 Cllr Paget-Brown had “by invitation attended as a guest at a dinner held in the Belvedere Restaurant, London W8 to mark the MIPIM conference at Olympia”.

It seems to us that Paget-Brown can only have received this invitation because he is the current leader of the RBKC Council and must therefore have attended the dinner in this capacity. We can think of no other reason why he would have been singled out for such an invitation, and yet the Council claims to have no record of this! The Grenfell Action Group believe that our public servants have a duty to be transparent and honest with the residents that they purport to serve. We believe that we have a right to be informed of what Cllr Paget-Brown was up to when he attended the MIPIM dinner in this exclusive Kensington restaurant, what matters he discussed and what deals, if any, he made. We believe that the response to our original Freedom of Information request was totally inadequate and insulted the open democratic process. Not to be thwarted by the Council’s response a member of our group has written back to RBKC and demanded the following information:

“Please can you inform me if the Leader of RBKC was attending this MIPIM dinner as a representative of the Council and who paid for his ticket (ie was his dinner paid for out of Council funds or was it paid for by a property developer)? Please can you inform me the reason the Leader of the Council gave for attending this dinner, who he had talks with, what matters of Council business (or private business if Cllr Paget Brown claims not to have been representing the RBKC) were discussed at the dinner, and whether these discussions were later minuted and recorded with the Council?  Please can you inform me whether Cllr Paget-Brown received any material benefits as a result of his attendance at this MIPIM dinner and, if so, did he record these with the Council”?

The letter went on to point out that  if the Council chooses to continue not to provide us with the information that was originally requested then we will request that this matter is referred to the Chief Solicitor and Monitoring Officer as a matter of some urgency. The Grenfell Action Group believe that we are entitled to receive the information that we have legitimately requested and we have informed the Council that, if we do not receive a satisfactory answer from the Council’s Monitoring Officer we will refer this matter to the Information Commissioner’s Office to obtain an independent decision on this matter without further delay.

Finally, the letter requested that the RBKC Chief Solicitor and Monitoring Officer inform us if it is appropriate for a Council representative (Cllr Paget Brown) to attend a dinner full of property developers and their quislings without being accompanied by a Council Officer and to provide the Grenfell Action Group with the guidance offered to RBKC Councillors on this subject”?

Once we receive a response from RBKC we will, of course, update our readers. However, the RBKC can rest assured that the Grenfell Action Group will not be satisfied until we we are furnished with full and transparent answers to the questions that we have posed. It would seem that Paget-Brown and his ilk think that they have a right to rule over us like despotic kings with no need to be accountable to the electorate they are elected and paid to serve. One day, this attitude will be the cause of their undoing and they can’t say that they have not been warned! 

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Have Yourself A Very Rocky Christmas!

rockyxmasSeason’s greetings from the Grenfell Action Group! The mocked up christmas card that we have chosen to illustrate this little blog is, of course, intended to lampoon the RBKC Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Housing Property and Regeneration, Rock Feilding-Mellen, whose recent exploits will ensure that many residents of the Royal Borough’s council housing estates are unlikely to fully enjoy the peace and security they might have hoped for, given that Rocky and his mates are planning radical changes in the name of REGENERATION to the estates and communities in which they live – changes involving demolition and rebuild at greater density to provide additional private housing (for those who can afford it), massive disruption and destruction of existing communities, and the displacement of many social tenants and the many leaseholders who had availed themselves of the ‘right-to-buy’ the social housing they had previously rented, and which they will soon be forced to sell (or suffer compulsory purchase) to make way for the new ‘mixed communities’ that are planned and new luxury accommodation for the rich.

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Public Space v Private Education!

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North Kensington library photographed celebrating it’s 125th birthday on 19th October 2016.

The Grenfell Action Group have long believed that the RBKC plan to build a new municipal centre on Lancaster Road to house a new library and youth centre has nothing to do with providing local residents with a “bigger and better library” or improved services for local young people.  We believe that the Council’s disposal of our much loved library building is almost entirely motivated by a perverse desire to facilitate the expansion of the Notting Hill Prep School in an act of unparalleled brown-nosing.

The Grenfell Action Group have been, and will continue, campaigning long and hard to expose what we believe is a private business deal between RBKC and the Notting Hill Prep School that was carried out without any proper public consultation, without an open tendering process and without the opportunity of any independent scrutiny.

The Grenfell Action Group believe that the Council’s actions to dispose of our library are motivated by a desire to make up for the Notting Hill Prep School losing out to their private educational rivals, Chepstow House, in the bidding war for the Issac Newton Centre in 2014 that so upset a great number of the Notting Hill Prep School’s backers who thought that they had that deal in the bag. This incident was rather comically known locally as the “Prep School Wars” and nearly resulted in the parents of the exclusive school threatening to run an independent candidate against the Tories in the upcoming 2015 elections in Norland Ward. A few words of assurance from RBKC to Notting Hill Prep about the future of North Kensington library is reputed to have put an end to that threat!

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2572643/SEBASTIAN-SHAKESPEARE-Dis-brother-joins-war-Notting-Hill-yummy-mummys.html

The Grenfell Action Group have recently been alerted to the fact that the RBKC’s desire to facilitate the spread of private education in North Kensington may not be confined to the disposal of the aforementioned public assets. It has come to our attention that the Council’s recent survey of local residents concerning the North Kensington Memorial Park may be motivated by an intention to further feather the nest of Notting Hill Prep School and Chepstow House by providing their pupils with sports and play facilities in the form of AstroTurf football pitches. It’s interesting to note at this juncture that Sky News reported this weekend on research commissioned by Ofsted which revealed that private schools have better facilities and a stronger emphasis on sport and P.E. than state schools, which struggle these days to afford such provision, and that this lack of emphasis on competitive sport can have a detrimental effect on the academic performance of the pupils concerned.

http://news.sky.com/story/lack-of-competitive-sport-harming-pupils-10400002

It is strange that those residents living in close proximity to the Memorial Park have not been provided with hard copies of the survey while those living in more affluent areas of the borough have. It would be no surprise to us if the parents of local privately educated children had also been encouraged to fill out the online survey and demand an increase in the size of artificial play areas.

It is a fact that pupils from Notting Hill Prep School are currently using the Memorial Park for outside sports and are forced at present to occupy the undersized tennis court area. No doubt the provision of more private facilities , unaffordable to the local working class population and available for future block-booking by private education providers, would secure the space they desire so that their children could play away from the toxic fumes of the Westway motorway.

As we have always stated the Grenfell Action Group believe that the process concerning the loss of our library building stinks to high heaven and is nothing other than a private business deal between those with vested interests at RBKC and the Notting Hill Prep School. We believe that the actions of the Council and the Prep School will cause them huge reputational damage and we will do all in our power to expose this immoral scam!

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