Over the past 4 years Southwark Council has faced criticism and claims arising out of the closure of the Imperial Gardens night club in Camberwell New Road. Imperial Gardens was forced to close as a result of planning approval being given for a residential development on an adjacent site to be built by Fairview Homes. The owners of Imperial Gardens were not notified of the planning application submitted by Fairview Homes, and the existence of the club was not brought to the attention of the members of the Planning Committee considering Fairview's application - despite the fact that Imperial Gardens had planning and licensing applications pending with the Council for a number of years! The Local Government Ombudsman, the District Auditor, the Council's own Overview & Scrutiny Committee and Lord Ouseley have all considered the issues arising out of the case, and all found the Council to have failed the owners of Imperial Gardens in one way or another.
Raymond Stevenson and Lucia Hinton, the owners of Imperial Gardens, have now commenced a High Court action against the Council seeking damages. Given the numerous procedural failures by the Council which have been highlighted in this matter it would be surprising if the Council was not at severe risk on the issue of liability - but of course it would be wrong for me to pre-judge this claim!
However, the case of Imperial Gardens has been seized on by Mayor Ken Livingstone and many others as highlighting the failure of Southwark Council to treat all of the residents of the borough equally - and in particular treating our Black and Minority Ethnic communities in a discriminatory manner. Real damage has been done to the Council's image amongst these communities - who comprise about 40% of the borough's residents.
Over the past couple of years I have called for greater political leadership on this issue from the LibDems, but every time my calls have been ignored. So we are now at the stage where a protracted legal process seems inevitable - and the damage to the Council's image and relations with nearly half of the borough's residents is undermined.
It's never too late to take a lead on issues such as this - I just hope that someone in the current Tory/LibDem coalition finds the time to provide that leadership soon.