Friday 30 March 2012

What Does The Kwok Brothers Arrests Mean For H&F Conservatives’ Earls Court, West Kensington Opportunity Area?

Hong Kong: Kwok brothers arrested. Full report in the FT
On the 19th December 2011 Capital & Counties Properties PLC (Capco) announced that it had made a “conditional agreement with Kwok Family Interests to acquire 50% stake in Seagrave Road for £65.6m.” Adding: “Interests of the Kwok family are major shareholders of Sun Hung Kai Properties Limited, one of the largest and highly reputable real estate companies listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.” Seagrave Road in Fulham is the phase one site of what H&F Council and CapCo refer to as the "Earls Court and West Kensington Opportunity Area". You can read CapCo's full press release by clicking here.

However, yesterday afternoon Reuters reported that “Hong Kong's Independent Commission Against Corruption on Thursday arrested two senior company executives, identified in the media as Sun Hung Kai Properties tycoon brothers Raymond and Thomas Kwok, for corruption” It went on to say “the Hong Kong stock exchange suspended Sun Hung Kai, SmarTone Telecommunications Holdings and SUNeVision Holdings Ltd, ahead of what the companies said was a potentially price-sensitive announcement.” The Financial Times have the story here and the BBC are also reporting the story.

Many residents will recall how as recently as the 16th February H&F Conservatives arranged a Special Planning Applications Committee (PAC) meeting so their councillors could rush through approval for the Seagrave Road plans. Then on 19th March, H&F Conservatives called all councillors to an Extraordinary Council Meetings so they could use their block vote to push through the vital Supplementary Planning Document for the “Opportunity Area” site which included Seagrave Road. And just four days ago Mayor Boris Johnson (Con) nodded the whole scheme through.

We will have to see how and indeed if what’s happened in Hong Kong will affect CapCo and H&F Conservatives’ opportunities with their Fulham scheme. We should note that the Kwok brothers have not been formally charged, they haven't been tried and have not been found guilty of doing anything wrong.

Until now, the most controversial aspect of this whole project has been the forced demolition of 800 residents’ homes on the West Kensington and Gibbs Green Estates. H&F Conservatives have broken a long-standing precedent and have flatly refused to give those residents a vote on the future of their homes - as North End Ward Councillor Daryl Brown (Lab) called for here. Last Thursday, the Guardian featured the residents' plight in this excellent article.

The news from the far east spotlights an important aspect to this contentious scheme. There are serious questions that need to be answered about the financial viability of the whole project and what that means for the 800 households racked with anxiety about the future of their homes. Mayor Boris Johnson and H&F Conservatives will both need to publish a full report that comprehensively deals with these concerns and explains what they intend to do with the Transport for London and H&F Council land that they both control and which is intrinsic to the whole "Opportunity Area" plan.

H&F Conservatives should announce that the West Kensingston and Gibbs Green homes are no longer a part of this plan and remove the spectre of demolition from those residents' lives.

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