Startling allegations of a potential ‘cover-up’ by the Royal Borough of Greenwich have been made surrounding a controversial property sale, shedding light on hidden agendas and raising critical questions about transparency and accountability.
In a recent response to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, serious questions have arisen surrounding the Royal Borough of Greenwich’s dealings with property developers Grosvenor Hill. The response, delayed by months, has shed light on a series of unanswered queries and potential cover-ups, prompting concerns about transparency, accountability, and ethical governance within the council.
Following the sale of a property once owned by Greenwich Council to developer, Grosvenor Hill Social Impact Group Ltd, a recent investigation by Chamber discovered that at the point of sale no planning permission was sought for the redevelopment of the site.
This journal has seen the response to an FOI request, which sought information about various aspects of the property, including correspondence, agreements, evaluations, and gifts involving the council, Grosvenor Hill Social Impact Group Ltd, tenants Noble Tree Foundation, and other entities. While the initial request was made in February 2023, the response was consistently delayed, eventually provided months later with redacted information and several claims of non-availability of information on file.
Of particular concern is the lack of correspondence and documentation related to the submission of applications for self-contained studio flats at 75 Ashburnham Grove, a prime piece of real estate in the heart of Greenwich. The absence of such critical information raises questions about the council’s decision-making process, potentially implying irregularities or attempts to withhold information.
Furthermore, the response indicates a lack of records involving key departments and figures. Notably, correspondence involving Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Councillor Aidan Smith, Cabinet Member for Housing, Neighbourhoods and Homelessness, Councillor Pat Slattery, and officers responsible for Council Estates, Capital Assets, Planning, and Regeneration is reportedly missing. Both Cllrs Slattery and Smith are Greenwich Park Ward Councillors, where the site is located. One local resident said “this absence of documentation involving key players raises suspicions about selective record-keeping and potential attempts to conceal certain aspects of the property’s management and development.”
Significant Delays to FOI Request
The handling of the FOI request and the subsequent responses also paint a troubling picture of the council’s commitment to transparency and accountability. Delays, redactions, and missing information collectively point to a potential attempt to obstruct the public’s right to access information about matters of public interest.
One local resident, who asked not to be identified owing to concerns about reprisals from the Council said “what have they [Royal Borough of Greenwich Council] got to hide? If I sold my house, I would have mountains of documentation as part of the sale. We all pay our council taxes; therefore, we should be able to see the records.”
Serious Questions Asked of Royal Borough of Greenwich
In light of these revelations, serious questions must be asked of the Royal Borough of Greenwich. What is the council’s justification for the delays in responding to the FOI request? Why is critical correspondence and documentation related to the property seemingly missing? Why is there no proof of ownership for 75 Ashburnham Grove? These questions, along with concerns about transparency and ethical governance, necessitate a thorough investigation to uncover the truth.
The potential cover-up indicated by this FOI response highlights the importance of open and accountable governance. A local authority should serve its residents with the utmost transparency, especially when dealing with matters involving public resources and valuable properties. As residents and concerned citizens, local people have a right to know how local authorities are managing community assets and making decisions that affect our lives.
Local residents have said that it is imperative that the Royal Borough of Greenwich address these concerns promptly and comprehensively. A thorough internal review is necessary to uncover any irregularities, ensure accountability, and restore public trust.
Calls for an External Investigation
If necessary, local residents have called for an external inquiry to be initiated to investigate the apparent discrepancies and alleged cover-ups related to 75 Ashburnham Grove.
The case of 75 Ashburnham Grove serves as a stark reminder that citizens must remain vigilant and demand transparency from their local authorities. In the face of unanswered questions and potential attempts to hide information, elected officials and public servants must be held accountable for their actions. Only through openness and accountability can we ensure that the interests of the community are protected and that our local governance operates in the best interest of all.
This is not a unique case in local government – there is a substantial lack of transparency on council asset transfers/sales across the country. It is important for local government to share as much information with residents as possible and reflects our fundamental right to know and participate in the decision-making that shapes our community’s future.
A spokesperson for Greenwich Council told Chamber: “The Council apologises for the delay in responding to the [Freedom of Information] request, however, as part of the usual Freedom of Information/Environmental Impact Report process, the requester had the right to appeal to the Information Commissioner’s Office if they were unhappy.”
“The Council strongly denies the allegations made by Chamber UK. If it believes any illegality has occurred, it can report it to the Council’s Monitoring Officer. Chamber UK also has the right to appeal the outcome of its Environmental Impact Report request to the Information Commissioner’s Office.
Update 11th August 2023: Greenwich Council asked for an additional statement to be published. “The Council strongly denies the allegations made by Chamber UK.”
“The Council is not able to comment on live planning applications – however residents are welcome to submit their views, on Grosvenor Hill Green Grove Ltd’s application to use its property in Ashburnham Grove to provide supported accommodation for vulnerable individuals, as part of the due process which will be subject to consideration at the Greenwich Area Planning Committee.”