Greenwich Council says that local residents benefit from little-publicised trips by the borough’s leaders to a major property festival in Cannes.
It recently emerged that Anthony Okereke, who is about to mark his first anniversary as council leader, visited the Mipim fair in the French resort in March.
Both Okereke and the council say that he paid for his five-day visit himself.
Mipim is a four-day networking and conference event that aims to “influence and accelerate the transformation of the built environment”.
It is held every March, two months before the world’s most famous film festival takes over the city. Its glamorous location and boozy reputation – nicknamed “Massive International Piss-Up In the Med” – means the event has long attracted controversy. But attendees say that it is a very effective way to attract development and businesses because it brings investors and local government figures together in the same place.
Okereke was invited to Cannes as part of a delegation from London Councils, the umbrella body for the 32 boroughs, as part of its Opportunity London campaign to promote the capital to investors.
While his attendance was trailed to attendees on the Opportunity London website, Okereke’s trip to Cannes was not shared with residents on the council’s social media, nor in its printed outlets.
It was only made public at the end of March, when Matt Hartley, the opposition Conservative leader, raised the issue at a council meeting, which went unreported by any outlet.
This website can now reveal that Okereke met representatives of Barratt Homes, the German property investor Patrizia, as well as the chairman and chief executive of Homes England, a government agency that has been involved with plans for a DLR extension to Thamesmead.
According to an answer given under freedom of information laws, he also attended:
- an Opportunity London reception
- an event held by Business LDN – the lobbying group formerly known as London First
- An event held by the London Communications Agency – a PR company for developers – and Town Legal, a planning law firm
- A debate held by Berkeley Homes, which owns the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich and Kidbrooke Village as well as the Lombard Square development, close to Plumstead station
- A reception held by Arup, a planning consultancy
Okereke is not the first senior Greenwich politician or official to attend Mipim in the past decade. Danny Thorpe, his predecessor, made a little-publicised trip to MPIM in 2017, costing council taxpayers £20,000, the council revealed in the same freedom of information request.
Thorpe, who was the cabinet member for regeneration at the time, was accompanied by Pippa Hack, the senior council officer in charge of regeneration.
A further visit by Hack and Jeremy Smalley, the deputy director of regeneration, in 2018, came to £7,165.
Asked by Hartley at March’s council meeting, Okereke said the council would be continue to be represented at Mipim.
“I think it is important to raise the importance of this event and we will continue to attend, be it myself, the cabinet member for regeneration or our officers,” he said.
“London Councils has been working particularly hard to make sure that we can win more investment for London alongside the mayor of London, promoting London as a global city.”
Even though his own communications team did nothing to promote his attendance, Okereke insisted that it was “all in the public domain”.
He said that the council had already “started to arrange formal meetings with interested parties who are keen to work in Greenwich”.
A council spokesperson told 853: “Attending the Mipim conference is an opportunity to promote a wide range of development and regeneration opportunities in Greenwich, as part of London Councils’ drive to showcase London as a global city. London Councils’ Opportunity London initiative highlights opportunities to invest in real estate and infrastructure in all of London’s boroughs.
“It benefits our residents by helping to attract high quality developers and employers to the area, encouraging investment in much needed housing, commercial and community facilities, and supporting new jobs.”
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