Exclusive: Emails cast light on council’s ‘bobbing and weaving’ over Bradford Odeon

CAMPAIGNERS fighting to save the Bradford Odeon claim an email sent by an ex-regeneration chief implies he was acting for the developer behind the controversial scheme to demolish the iconic building while still employed by the council.

Stephen Talboys left his job as director of city centre regeneration last September after setting up consultancy firm Morphe with colleague Yaseen Mohammed.

It took on Langtree, the developer behind the stalled £55m New Victoria Place scheme planned for the site of the former cinema, as a client in November.

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But in an email discussing the project in October, Mr Talboys wrote: “Whilst at the council I spent the last year bobbing and weaving on [Yorkshire Forward] and Langtree’s behalf through some very tricky political one-to-one meetings and committees to allow you and Langtree the space to resolve the necessary documentations.”

The email was to Naz Parker of the Homes and Communities Agency, which took ownership of the building from Yorkshire Forward when the regional development agency was wound up.

Those opposed to the scheme believe Mr Talboys’ remark implies he was acting for Langtree while still employed by Bradford Council but Mr Talboys refuted the suggestion, telling the Yorkshire Post it merely meant he had been trying to keep the project moving forward.

He said: “We were doing the job we were given to do, which was to progress the scheme with Langtree.”

In the email, he also wrote: “In my former role we did a very good job of driving this project through one of Bradford’s most difficult planning decisions and have been seeking to keep the parties focused and working together.”

In a separate FOI request, it was asked whether Mr Talboys or Mr Mohammed, former head of property, had ever declared a conflict of interests between their roles at the council and the new company they had set up.

Clare Rogers, the council’s regeneration information officer, said the authority did not hold copies of specific declarations.

She said council bosses had given them permission to start the company and an employee code of conduct had been followed and upheld.

She said: “Consent was sought in writing and subsequently granted by the assistant director of economic development in respect of the commencement of a consultancy business named Morphe.

“At the time that Morphe consultancy began both members of staff commenced their notice period of employment with the Council (three months). Both ceased employment on 13th September 2011.”

Morphe, based in Little Germany, Bradford, was registered with Companies House on March 2, 2011, nearly six months before the pair finished working for the council. Terry Hodgkinson, former chairman of Yorkshire Forward, is also a non-executive director of the company.

Mr Talboys told the Yorkshire Post the firm only began trading at the end of June and that Morphe decided to cease working with Langtree earlier this month to focus on other projects.

A Bradford Council spokesperson said: “This email was sent after the individual was no longer working for the council and we are not responsible for comments made by ex-employees. The council has no contractual relationship with Morphe.”

Plans were approved in 2009 to demolish the Odeon to make way for the New Victoria Place complex, involving a hotel, offices and restaurants, but no work has begun.

There has been considerable opposition to the scheme from the city’s residents, who want the historic building preserved. Saving it was a key election pledge of Bradford West MP George Galloway and such high profile figures as Bradford-born artist David Hockney and actor and director Lord Richard Attenborough have voiced support for the campaigners.

Jim Mitchum, who is campaigning to save the Odeon, said: “The council should investigate, and the planning department should review the planning permission for this scheme if they find any of the parties have acted dishonestly.”