Conflicting explanations offered as housing chief leaves South Oxhey redevelopment (From Watford Observer)
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Conflicting explanations offered as Thrives Homes chief executive, Elspeth Mackenzie, leaves South Oxhey redevelopment steering group
The chief executive of Thrive Homes has stepped down from a committee spearheading the multi-million pound redevelopment of South Oxhey to avoid a commercial conflict of interest, Three Rivers District Council has said.
However the housing association has offered conflicting reasons for why Elspeth Mackenzie has left the South Oxhey initiative steering committee, saying it due to the council not matching the price it wants for 98 Thrive homes on the site.
The differing versions have been offered after it was announced Ms Mackenzie was stepping down this week.
The committee has been overseeing the early stages of an ambitious plan to redevelop the heart of South Oxhey with 520 new homes, a 25,000 sq ft supermarket, new green spaces, and a shopping parade.
It would require the demolition of 98 homes, which are among the 4,000 Three Rivers District Council sold to Thrive in 2008 for £20 million, and are now managed by the social housing organisation.
Ms Mackenzie was made a member of the committee but stepped down this week to avoid "any commercial conflict of interest" a council statement has said.
Councillor Stephen King, Labour group leader and a South Oxhey resident, was also told he could not continue to hold positions on both the Thrive Board and the South Oxhey Initiative.
He duly resigned from the board.
A statement from Three Rivers chief executive Steven Halls, said: "Councillor Stephen King has advised he has stepped down from the Thrive Homes board in order that he can remain on the South Oxhey initiative steering committee while avoiding any conflict of interest.
"Elspeth Mackenzie has stepped down as a member of the South Oxhey initiative steering committee to avoid any commercial conflict of interest with her role at Thrive.
"We would like to thank Elspeth for her work on the South Oxhey Initiative so far."
However, Ms Mackenzie offered a different explanation for her departure from the board, saying the council’s offer to buy back the 98 homes earmarked for the demolition was "not commercially acceptable".
Ms Mackenzie said in a statement: "Thrive Homes’ primary concern is to achieve the best outcome for our residents and the wider community of South Oxhey.
"Our preferred option was to be involved throughout the process as a party to the project.
"We have worked hard to reach a realistic position based on legal advice and in line with our charitable aims to ensure we achieve the correct value for the existing stock.
"It is disappointing that appropriate terms could not be achieved because Thrive Homes would then have been in the best position to support our customers and the local area’s need for affordable housing."
A Thrive spokesman added that the council’s failure to meet their valuation of the homes meant there was no longer a role for Thrive homes on the board but would not rule out further involvement in the future.
The spokesman added: "Thrive Homes, along with everyone else in the area, is keen to learn the outcome of the council’s search for a developer to take this project forward.
"We are hopeful that this will provide a fresh opportunity for us to re-engage with the project.
"We will continue to support our residents in the affected area with our usual management and maintenance services and, as soon as the Council’s plans are definite, will let them know what their options are at each stage of the redevelopment."
A Three Rivers spokesman said the council retains the freehold of the houses and Ms Mackenzie’s departure from the committee would not affect negotiations on the purchase of leases.