BY CALUM FRASER
Residents are calling for a £500million regeneration scheme to be halted after a damning report slammed those in charge of the plans.
An audit of the Lewisham council-owned Catford Regeneration Partnership Ltd (CRPL) found that the company, which could be managing half a billion pounds of taxpayers’ money, had “no effective budgetary control system in place.”
CRPL was established in 2010 to buy vast swathes of property and land in and around Catford Centre including Milford Towers, the Catford Shopping centre and the Catford Greyhound Stadium.
Accounting firm Mazars gave CRPL the lowest governance rating possible, Level 1, and found that “the process for budgetary control” is not documented and CRPL has “no effective means of controlling its income, with no documented supervision of payments.”
Cheryl Mcleod, of the Catford Against Social Cleansing (CASC) residents’ group, said: “This was utterly astounding. How can you spend money and don’t have a budget in place? This is frivolous free-for-all spending.
“This company is the vehicle which is managing a £500million purse, this is absolutely appalling.”
Councillors raised concerns about CRPL’s governance structure in 2014, casting doubt on whether a company with only two directors can manage such a vast project.
Then Lewisham Mayor, Sir Steve Bullock, asked lawyers to look into whether a third director would be appropriate. Ms Mcleod, of Catford, said: “We want the Mayor of Lewisham, Damien Egan, to halt this regeneration. We are saying no to developers and no to any masterplans, until this mess is sorted out.
“There needs to be an independent inquiry into this fiasco.”
Mazars report was scrutinised by town hall chiefs at an Audit Panel meeting held on September 20.
At the meeting, Rushey Green ward councillor Louise Krupski said: “I don’t like this being presented to us in a public scenario, it could have been written down, it doesn’t make us look great.”
Audit panel member Stephen Warren argued that a shareholder agreement or memorandum of understanding that sets out the standards that are expected should be set up.
The panel’s chairman, Cllr Alan Hall said: “It’s not that we mistrust the directors, it’s probably that there aren’t enough of them and that there has to be some oversight for where the responsibilities lie.
In the end, we’re talking about huge sums of money invested on behalf of the council and we don’t have any assurance, limited assurances, that it’s being done through due processes.”
A spokesman for Lewisham council said: A council spokesman said: “Catford Regeneration Partnership Ltd was established as an arm’s length private company to acquire and manage the Catford Centre. It is only currently responsible for the shopping centre, not the wider regeneration of Catford.
“The partnership is addressing the points in the audit and tightening up its procedures.
“Accounts are independently audited, publicly available and reported to meetings of all councillors. The partnership has a good track record in filling its vacant shops and bringing empty and derelict parts of the centre back into commercial and residential use.
“The partnership has recently attracted Catford’s first multi-screen cinema for nearly 20 years.”