Council leader defends house purchase after questions raised

Nesil Caliskan bought a house from a local company after its new headquarters were built on a council car park, reports James Cracknell

The new Metaswitch building in Genotin Road and (inset) Nesil Caliskan
The new Metaswitch building in Genotin Road and (inset) Nesil Caliskan

The leader of Enfield Council has defended her decision to buy a house from a local company that had struck a multi-million-pound deal with the civic centre three years previously.

Nesil Caliskan – who is also now a Labour parliamentary candidate in Barking – purchased a four-bed terraced property from Metaswitch in June 2021.

Three months earlier the firm had moved into its new £27million office block in Genotin Road, on a former council car park, although the deal was both conceived and negotiated prior to Cllr Caliskan becoming leader of the council in May 2018.

The council leader has made it clear that she didn’t know who the sellers of her house were until the exchange of contracts took place and that the purchase “was done through an agent”. She has also emphasised that she “had no involvement in the financial or legal agreements at any time”.

The timing of the purchase also means that any negotiations over the house purchase would have taken place years after the council had concluded its business dealings with Metaswitch over its new offices.

However, the council leader has been criticised by two of her former Labour colleagues, as well as the Conservative group leader in Enfield, for not being more transparent about the purchase.

Land Registry records show the house was purchased by Cllr Caliskan and her husband for £530,000, with several senior figures at Metaswitch – acquired by Microsoft four years ago – listed as the sellers, along with the company’s pension fund.

The deal between Metaswitch and the council to build a new headquarters on Genotin Road Car Park saw the civic centre fund construction of the five-storey office building and agree a 15-year lease with the company.

The council’s cabinet, in July 2018, voted to “grant an institutional lease for a grade A office building to Metaswitch Networks Limited and fund the development of that building, at an acceptable rate of return, whilst retaining this major employer and business in Enfield Town”. The plans for the new offices were approved by the council’s planning committee in November 2018 and the building became operational in March 2021.

There is no evidence of any wrongdoing by Cllr Caliskan, who was not required to declare the details of the purchase on her council register of interests beyond the fact that she owned the property in question, which she did.

However, former Labour cabinet member Alan Sitkin, who originally pushed the council to find a new site for Metaswitch and help keep the company in the borough, told the Dispatch: “It is unusual for a public official to do private business with an entity with whom the council has worked in the public interest.

“The expectation is that public and private interests are kept separate.”

Former councillor Daniel Anderson, who served as Cllr Caliskan’s deputy during the first year of her leadership but later quit the Labour group in protest at her leadership style, also criticised the council leader’s “lack of judgement” over the house purchase.

And Alessandro Georgiou, the leader of the Conservative opposition group at Enfield Civic Centre, said the council leader still had “serious questions to answer”.

Asked by the Dispatch what steps she had taken during the house purchase process to ensure there was no conflict of interest, Cllr Caliskan said: “The council first entered into an agreement with Metaswitch before I became leader. I have had no involvement in the financial or legal agreements at any time, which were all conducted by council officers.

“The price paid for the house was reflective of the bank mortgage valuation, and the purchasing of the property was done through an agent – I only found out the names of the owners during the exchange.

“I was not in the cabinet in 2017, so would not have been involved in detailed conversations about it. I was pleased to see Metaswitch move into the site in Enfield Town because of the enormous benefits it brought to the local economy.”

A council spokesperson said: “At no time did any councillor participate in the financial or legal negotiations with Metaswitch or their agents. Independent professional advisers conducted the negotiations and GVA Grimley advised the council on the value of the deal reached and gave the council confidence that it had obtained best value.

“Discussions with Metaswitch began several years ago, and a decision to enter into financial and legal negotiations was agreed in November 2017, six months before Cllr Caliskan became leader of Enfield Council.

“The Councillor Code of Conduct requires members to register an interest in any land and not name the person they bought it from.

“Metaswitch’s move into new premises at Genotin Road brought about tremendous benefits to residents and the local economy and the borough continues to reap these benefits. Metaswitch, which has been an Enfield-based company for more than 20 years, is a valued, long-term employer in the borough, employing more than 400 people, of which around 200 live locally. Their new global headquarters were completed in 2021, giving a much-needed boost to the local economy following the Covid-19 pandemic, and providing a regular income to the local authority through rent, with a 15-year lease.”

Metaswitch was approached for comment but has yet to respond.

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