You may think that I go on too much about developers. There are certainly more important issues, like homelessness, poverty, unemployment and crime. However, underpinning most challenges is the question of resources, especially in these times of forced austerity. The perception has taken hold that the key to alleviating those problems, lies in what today is generally described as “development” , raising extra resources. This illustrates perfectly how national government policy has shaped local thinking, whereby it is taken as read that “development”- and the developers who bring us this alleged panacea – is always a good thing.
Now, I would not for a moment suggest that economic development of the city-region is other than a good thing; what matters is its form and its beneficiaries. It must be carefully regulated, and actioned within a framework of local objectives for the benefit of local people. Too often, claimed development can act against the wider interests of communities, whilst garnering profits for developers who have no real interest in our area other than a monetary one.
That is why it is incumbent on local authorities to use all of the powers available to them to ensure that self-styled “developers” cannot abuse the interests and good name of our communities with obviously scam projects. Thus, it is laudable that Wirral politicians are taking an active (if belated) interest in the transparent failure of the Peel group to deliver on its development promises in relation to the Wirral Waters site, as council officers blindly propose decimating the borough’s green belt.
More mysterious, incidentally, is the neglect of due diligence procedures by some councils, in their gaderene rush to take on any and every proposal put to them. This is a recurring phenomenon in Liverpool. That council insists – despite all of the evidence to the contrary – that it exercised due diligence in its dealings with companies which have been shown as fronts for con artists. Well, I would definitely contest the council’s view on its professional competence when it comes to due diligence.
Driving into the city centre from any direction, one is soon close to one of the failed big money projects, along with block after block of student flats (one looks in vain for the social housing desperately needed by local families). The latest one is the so-called Fabric District between London Road and Islington. The named developer is the Yeung Property Group, the brainchild of Sze Ming Yeung. The mayor sings the praises of this organization in the fawning Echo, but on what basis, one can only wonder. Mr Yeung has thirteen companies to his name, mostly registered at a dockside address, and most of which have him listed as the sole director. The first of these was listed with Companies House just two years ago; nearly all of the rest were created within the last year.
I am not suggesting anything improper about Mr Yeung and his companies – how could I, when there is no information of any significance about them in the public domain? To my knowledge, there is no business record of any note about them, so why on earth should the mayor endorse them so effusively? What is the basis for this?
Of course, there are plenty of other self-described developers around, many of them keen to widely publicise their claimed success. Mr Elliot Lawless has become a millionaire at the tender age of 31 years of age whilst Mr Lawrence Kenwright has rocketed from bankruptcy to the role of local Donald Trump within half a dozen years or so. The question must be asked: how are these and others, together with their financial arrangements, assessed by LCC before the council engages in business with them?
Most local people welcome investment in their local area. However, they see investment as a means to an end, not an end in itself. That is, they look for the positive impact which that investment can, and should, have on their lives. Generally, that might mean jobs, housing or simply a better environment. Too often, citizens despair at failed and abandoned projects, concreted green space, and undeveloped land banks, providing big profits for a few, with little or no return for the many.