In light of the very misleading claims made by my political opponents and news outlets I believe that it would be beneficial for me to clarify my position regarding The Lodge in Carshalton.
It has been implied that I am personally benefiting from the agreement between Sutton Council and EcoLocal to transfer control of The Lodge. I would like to stress that I am an unpaid director and trustee of EcoLocal and therefore I have no personal financial interest whatsoever in the deal.
EcoLocal is a well-respected organisation; this is EcoLocal’s description of their activities:
EcoLocal is a local charity originally established in 1987. We are run by, for and with the local community. The majority of our trustees, employees and volunteers live locally. Local people are involved and have ownership of our activities and services in a variety of ways including: planning, management, publicity, administration, providing practical skills and offering peer to peer support.
The current economic climate is making it increasingly hard for charities and other voluntary bodies to raise funds to carry out the community benefit activities they are set up to achieve. So for several years EcoLocal, like many other charities, has been looking at ways to broaden their funding base. Our approach, like many others, has been to focus on developing the social enterprise culture of the organisation.
Coupled with this local authority budgets have been shrinking rapidly over recent years. Sadly Councils are being forced to cut back on many services that people value and need. As services are cut, Councils are left with buildings that they can no longer use, but which are still, in effect, owned by the local community.
In certain cases these buildings can quite sensibly and legally be transferred to charities to use in order to provide services in perpetuity that people value and need. For this to happen, the social benefits of any such project must be clearly demonstrated and a sustainable financial plan, backed by expert advice, must be produced. The principle of transferring an asset such as a building from a public body to a charitable body so that it can provide services to the community is very well established.
In EcoLocal’s case we saw an opportunity to develop facilities for the community at The Lodge. In 2011 we produced a ‘Vision’ for a mixed use development of the site. This was well received by residents and we have since developed and consulted on the plans.
The Lodge project presents a viable opportunity to build on their existing community enterprise and create a thriving resource that meets the needs of the local community.
We have already had a large number of local people expressing their keen interest in volunteering to help their proposed activities at The Lodge. Over 200 groups and organisations have expressed an interest in the facilities and over £1.4m worth of volunteering has been offered per year.
It has also been claimed that there was a conflict of interest for two local councillors who work for me in my capacity as a Member of Parliament, which related to their decision to support EcoLocal’s proposal for The Lodge. This claim has been dismissed by the Council’s Monitoring Office.
It is disappointing that my political opponents have gone out of their way to criticise a project which has overwhelming local support. I hope they will reconsider their opposition.