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Woking Council Investigation Mounted Into £250 Million Stadium Development

Published on: 8 Dec, 2020
Updated on: 9 Dec, 2020

Woking Borough Council

By Julie Armstrong

local democracy reporter

An independent lawyer has been appointed to investigate Woking Borough Council (WBC) amid allegations of secrecy and “wholly inadequate” financial checks of the Woking Football Club stadium developer.

A task group in their overview and scrutiny committee described the council’s level of support for the proposed expansion in Kingfield, refused by the planning committee in June, as “beyond what could be reasonably expected”.

The group published recommendations for improvement in June, but a second report on the evidence on which these were based was kept confidential. Now this has been published, albeit with redactions.

In July 2018, the report says, the developer was confident of securing private finance to fund the expansion, though no information was given on any potential source.

A few months later, WBC offered a loan of £250m of public money to the external developer, who had no assets, and without credit reference checks, with no guarantor in case of repayment failure.

The taxpayers’ money was offered to someone who had never developed a stadium, when councillors were being told the football club was at risk of going under.

The council bought the freehold for the stadium land for £2 million, without planning permission for development and, according to the report, without a valuation.

The task group was set up to review the council’s procedures relating to the proposed addition of about 3,000 stadium seats and associated developments, including 1,048 homes. Due diligence was describe as as “wholly inadequate”.

Task group member Graham Chrystie, told an overview and scrutiny committee meeting: “Due diligence is a matter of assessing parties’ proposals and so on and then coming back and saying whether these proposals meet a certain standard. I don’t see any indication of that.

“I have no idea whether similar procedures have happened in connection with other arrangements but certainly here, I regard it as shocking.”

The task group found that until November 2019, the month before a planning application was submitted, all council discussions related to this development except one were held in private.

Ayesha Azad, leader of Woking Borough Council

Cllr Ayesha Azad, who took over as WBC leader, told last month’s Executive meeting that an independent investigator had now been appointed.

She said: “Upon becoming leader I made a pledge for greater transparency and openness in all that this council does.

“One of my first actions is to ensure an LGA-[Local Government Association] recommended person with a legal background is appointed to investigate and review the processes and actions of the council in relation to the football club and associated developments.

“The remit is absolutely open with no caveats and they will have access to all documents and persons as they see fit.”

WBC has appointed retired solicitor Gifty Edila, formerly corporate director of Legal, HR and Regulatory Services at Hackney.

Her brief is to “investigate and review the processes and actions of the council in respect of the Woking Football Club and Associated Developments and to make appropriate recommendations to the council”.

The investigation is expected to take three to four weeks, with her report due to go to council at its February 11 meeting.

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test One Response to Woking Council Investigation Mounted Into £250 Million Stadium Development

  1. Dave Middleton Reply

    December 8, 2020 at 12:49 pm

    Goodness me! Going by the above report, I’d say the whole matter smells fishier than a bucket of yesterday’s pilchards on a hot St Ives quayside.

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