Ex-Leader of LBWF Cllr. Clare Coghill joins the board of private sector housing provider Square Roots: cue furore

A couple of weeks ago, Cllr. Clare Coghill, the ex-Leader of LBWF, amended her Town Hall register of interests form to acknowledge that she has joined ‘Square Roots One York Road Uxbridge UB81RN’ as board vice chair.

To seasoned Waltham Forest watchers, this development is perhaps not unexpected.

Square Roots (or Square Roots Registered Provider Ltd., its full name) is a recently incorporated ‘affordable housing provider’; has what Housing Today describes as ‘a raft of senior public sector housing figures’ as directors; and aims to build ‘“much-needed new homes across all tenures in Greater London”’.

In the past few years, Cllr. Coghill has attended, indeed often addressed, a string of property and regeneration events, here and abroad, and must have built up a formidable number of contacts.

Putting these two sets of facts together, then, Cllr. Coghill’s change of direction seems to be something of a logical next step, and moreover one which presumably promises better pay and less donkey work.

However, that said, her decision to join the private sector also raises eyebrows.

The salient facts are threefold:

(a) according to its Certificate of Incorporation, Square Roots Registered Provider Ltd. is wholly owned by London Square Ltd., also of 1 York Rd. UB81RN;

(b) London Square Ltd., a big player in the capital’s housing sector, is at the centre of a group of associated companies and brands, one of which is London Square Development Ltd., again of 1 York Rd. UB81RN; and 

(c) in March 2021, London Square Development Ltd. was appointed by LBWF to build a £125m. scheme, featuring new homes with cultural and community facilities, on land around Lea Bridge Station, in the west of the borough.

In short, by joining Square Roots Registered Provider Ltd., Cllr. Coghill has become entwinned with other corporates, including a company that, while she was Leader, her own council appointed to a lucrative contract.

The question that arises, therefore, is whether this is a comfortable situation, and in particular to what extent it creates the potential for LBWF and therefore local people to lose out.

One resident has publicly written to Cllr. Coghill’s successor as Leader, Cllr. Grace Williams, to put the case for an inquiry:

 ‘In view of the fact that it has emerged that your predecessor… Cllr Clare Coghill, has taken a senior position as vice-chair of a property development company, do you not think it would be in the interests of all residents and the Council that the present master plan, undertaken under her leadership, for continued extensive building within the Borough should be put on hold immediately until an investigation can be held as to how the sites and number of buildings has been arrived at. I feel sure you would agree that only a full review would give residents the assurance that everything is, and can be seen to be, as above board…There is a need for new housing and Mayor Khan has made a statutory requirement for 522,370 homes across London which would equate to around 16000 per Borough, in the light of Cllr Coghill’s appointment the question I have asked before and remains unanswered is why LBWF intends to build 27,000 new dwellings?’.

Others have posted similar comments, with the general tenor being critical.

In assessing such apprehensions, it is worth underlining that Cllr. Coghill is currently bound by Part Nine of LBWF’s constitution, ‘Code of Conduct for Members’; this deals with conflicts of interest; and, in so far as her Square Roots Registered Provider Ltd. directorship is concerned, there is absolutely no evidence up to the present that she has breached any of its stipulations.

However, Cllr. Coghill has of course stated that she will not stand at next year’s local elections, and that does inevitably change the equation.

It is possible that LBWF has inserted a gagging clause in Cllr. Coghill’s current employment contract, preventing her after she has left LBWF from discussing its business for a given period of time.

But if LBWF has not so acted, Cllr. Coghill will be able to talk freely to anyone she bumps into at York Rd., and that might in theory include revealing what she knows about such important matters as the tactics LBWF uses to deal with developers, future business opportunities in the borough, and so on.

Cllr. Coghill has a well-earned reputation for integrity, and no doubt will continue to behave at all times in line with it. 

But that accepted, it would be sensible if both Cllr. Coghill and Cllr. Williams swiftly move to provide some clarification and reassurance.

ADDENDUM (1)

While they are at it, Cllrs Coghill and Williams might profitably address another matter, small but possibly significant.

According to Companies House, Cllr. Coghill was appointed to be a director of Square Roots Registered Provider Ltd. on 13 September 2021.

According to LBWF’s website, Cllr. Coghill updated her register of interests to reflect her new appointment on 14 October 2021, that is about a month later.

Why did Cllr. Coghill not change her register of interests immediately? And was the delay in any way connected to planning consultation deadlines?

ADDENDUM (2)

A correspondent asks what has happened to the ‘partner’ that Cllr. Coghill lists on her register of interests form, Simon Blackburn.

Mr. Blackburn became Leader of Blackpool Council in 2011, but nine years later, following a ‘serious allegation’, stepped down, and simultaneously was suspended by the Labour Party, pending an investigation.

This summer Mr. Blackburn announced that he had voluntary decided to terminate his Labour membership, and so the investigation lapsed.

Mr. Blackburn remains an independent member of Blackpool Council, and continues to deny any impropriety. He has announced that he will not stand in the 2023 elections.

Mr. Blackburn was non-executive director of The Calico Group from 2016 to 2021, and managing director of his own consultancy until it was dissolved in 2020, but Companies House confirms that he has no current directorships.

As a previous post noted, amongst Mr. Blackburn’s many claims to fame are his likeness to Clyde Loakes, and his dismissal of Blackpool Football Club fans as ‘donkey-botherers’.

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