The London Assembly has launched an investigation into a £1 billion deal for a business park in the Royal Docks masterplanned and designed by Terry Farrell
The moves follows a report by Channel 4 News last Thursday (13 November) which raised concerns about whether the business park’s Chinese developer Advance Business Parks (ABP) had been given favourable treatment when bidding for the 14ha Newham plot. ABP was selected as preferred bidder on the project in May last year.
A ‘worryingly close’ close relationship between ABP and the mayor’s overseas agency London and Partners – who shared offices in Beijing – has also been questioned along with the developer’s human rights record.
Yesterday (20 November) London Assembly members voted to carry out their own investigation after mayor Boris Johnson vetoed an independent probe into the affair.
Johnson told the Assembly an internal audit had already found the procurement process to be ‘compliant’.
In a statement he said: ‘The conclusion is the procurement process was compliant and it is therefore clear that any suggestion made by Channel 4 that the developer’s selection was in any way compromised is unfounded and I am confident that due practice was followed at every stage.’
He continued: ‘The programme made a number of allegations regarding to ABP’s human rights record. I have not been provided with information or evidence to support these allegations.’
However Labour group leader Len Duvall said: ‘Boris Johnson’s empty internal audit leaves many significant concerns unanswered. If the Mayor had nothing to hide then surely he would welcome a full independent investigation to verify the process. By refusing he is sending a worrying message that he believes big developments like this are above scrutiny, that is totally wrong.’
He added: ‘The Royal Albert Docks is an incredibly important development for London but the process for awarding the contract has to be transparent and seen to have been followed properly.’
He continued: ‘Of course we want to attract foreign investment to London but the Mayor cannot sell off vast swathes of the capital and then go into lockdown when legitimate questions are raised about a seemingly murky process.’
A spokesperson for ABP said in a statement: ‘Channel 4 News makes a series of assertions which are incorrect and ABP strongly disputes what is being implied. ABP went through a robust and thorough tender process over several years to be selected as the developer for Royal Albert Dock.
‘We welcome the findings of the GLA’s internal report. We have said all along that the Channel 4 Report is baseless. We are transparent in all of our business activities and have done nothing wrong.’
Planned to complete in 2023, the 300,000m² project – designed by Terry Farrell – is expected to create around 20,000 jobs and £56 million worth of infrastructure improvements.
Full comment from ABP
‘The Channel 4 report refers to the distress caused to a family whose farm was demolished at Fengtai Science Park in 2010. ABP fail to see any connection between a video from Fengtai Science Park and the ABP development in Beijing.
‘ABP absolutely refutes any suggestion that we had any knowledge or responsibility for this situation and this was made absolutely clear to Channel 4. However, Channel 4 chose not to report this fact or indeed that ABP Beijing was fully completed in 2010 when Channel 4 claim the farm was demolished.’
Update: 27 November
In a letter to London Assembly Member Rob Evans the Mayor of London declined to launch an independent investigation stating: ‘The Greater London Authority’s internal audit team has already looked into the tendering process for the Royal Albert Dock. Their report… conclued that there is ‘substantial assurance’ regarding the process.
It underlines that the procurement of the Royal Albert Dock was effective, compliant with internal procedures and the law, and fair for all bidders. In short, the report offers every possible assurance that due processwas followed in the award of the contract.
Your letter asks me to appoint an independent investigation into the tendering process. I should remind you that the GLA’s internal audit team operates independently and impartially. This audit was not therefore ‘undertaken by the Mayor’ as your letter suggests.