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Food supplier: ‘Behind the scenes discussions will lead to us being kicked out of Camley Street’

Town Hall to decide what to do with prime King's Cross site

15 July, 2019 — By Richard Osley

Alex Smith leads a deputation to Monday’s full council meeting

A FOOD supplier has called for greater transparency over how the council plans to redevelop a prime site near King’s Cross, amid concerns that long-standing businesses are going to be forced out.

Alex Smith, who is one of the campaigners to come up with an alternative proposal for the opportunity land in Camley Street, told Monday’s full council meeting that secret “behind the scenes” discussions were taking place.

Council chiefs are developing their own vision, pledging affordable housing and space for business without guaranteeing spots for existing companies.

The cabinet – the inner cabal of Camden’s 10 most senior councillors – will discuss the site next week, but Mr Smith said he was concerned that the alternative scheme from the Camley Street Neighbourhood Forum would not be fairly considered.

Asked at the meeting whether he was lobbying for some businesses to get an unfair commercial advantage by being involved in the discussion, Mr Smith, who owns health food retailers Alara, said: “I’ve been in Camden for 45 years. To be honest, I was hoping that the business that I’ve got, which just won a global award for sustainability, would be the sort of business Camden would want to back.”

He added: “I feel I’m a genuine stakeholder – what I do is transparent. At the same time there are vested interests. And those vested interests are discussing with Camden privately, secretly, and behind the scenes in ways that – if those plans come to fruition – would mean all of the other businesses would get kicked out without any oversight or understanding as to what’s happening or why.”

The Neighbourhood Forum’s plan includes 1,000 new homes, but there is a clash with the council over what level of affordability there will be.

The discussions have been complicated further because some long-lease holders are on part of the site and buying them out would be expensive.

Mr Smith said that Camden was speeding up its proposals and “the effect would be investment imposed on our community rather than in it, [facilitating] an exclusive economy rather than an inclusive one which retains key current businesses”.

Cabinet councilor Danny Beales, who regards the nearby King’s Cross railway lands redevelopment site as a triumph of regeneration in London, said the council would be concentrating on the sites in Camley Street that it could move ahead with.

Cllr Beales said that he recognised Mr Smith as an important “stakeholder”, but while eight businesses had come forward in his deputation, there were still many others to seek the views of. He said there would be a “comprehensive support package” for any overhaul in Camley Street, which he said would include “possible relocation to new facilities”.

Cllr Beales said: “Our preferred development model is Camden to lead as a publicly owned developer [and] not to do a joint venture, because that model would hold 100 per cent risk but only 50 per cent of public ownership and control.”

Last week, the New Journal reported how a group of the ruling Labour Party’s own backbenchers had tried to “call in” the council’s strategy – a way of reviewing policy – but their bid for a hearing was ruled out by the Borough Solicitor Andrew Maughan.

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