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Uttlesford District Council's controversial £35m UK HQ deal with Moog: Ruling R4U administration claims 'false rumours are being spread by political agitators'

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Uttlesford District Council's ruling party has defended its controversial £35m property deal with a global company that supplies weapons manufacturers and insisted: "We are not investing in the arms trade."

The council's Residents for Uttlesford (R4U) administration has been under intense scrutiny since it was revealed that a deal has been struck between UDC and Moog Inc. to fund development of the company's proposed new UK headquarters in Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire. It was exposed by Stansted parish councillor Daniel Brett, who has been monitoring the council's £300m property investment programme.

International charity Oxfam and the Campaign Against Arms Trade were both "appalled" by the council's involvement with Moog, while residents and opposition councillors have questioned UDC's ethical judgment and transparency. The council's Liberal Democrat and Green Party groups have disassociated themselves from UDC's decision.

Uttlesford District Council's offices in Saffron Walden (44952351)
Uttlesford District Council's offices in Saffron Walden (44952351)

The R4U administration, which took control of UDC at the May 2019 local elections, finally broke its silence, responding to repeated requests by the Bishop's Stortford Independent for a comment by issuing a formal statement.

Cllr Neil Hargreaves (R4U, Newport), UDC's portfolio holder for finance, claimed: "The false rumours are being spread by political agitators.

"It is difficult to understand why they are purposely choosing to misrepresent facts, although there are local [Essex County Council] elections in May.

From left, R4U councillors Neil Reeve, leader John Lodge and Neil Hargreaves (44952333)
From left, R4U councillors Neil Reeve, leader John Lodge and Neil Hargreaves (44952333)

"In addition to defaming UDC and the component manufacturer itself, they have sought to intentionally mislead the press, residents and other organisations."

He further claimed: "As part of their campaign, they have also manipulated and doctored information provided by the council in an attempt to suggest that UDC and its councillors are unfit to make these kinds of decisions. Investigations into this are ongoing. Their actions are a deliberate intent to deceive and undermine democracy for their own political reasons."

Cllr Hargreaves added: "All property investments at UDC follow a robust process. An investment board, including independent experts, help the council to create a balanced property portfolio. All 39 councillors are required to read, debate and weigh up any property purchase before taking a vote at a full council meeting. This process brings scrutiny, governance and an ethical lens to all of the council’s investment decisions."

UDC cabinet colleague Cllr Neil Reeve (R4U, Broad Oak and the Hallingburys), portfolio holder for economy, investment and corporate strategy, said: "To generate income which funds core services, councils can buy and let commercial property, and UDC is no exception.

Computer-generated image of global company Moog's planned UK HQ at Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire
Computer-generated image of global company Moog's planned UK HQ at Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire

"There have been recent public statements to suggest that UDC is ‘investing in the arms trade’. This is untrue and it is not credible that a council would do so.

"These accusations revolve around one of UDC’s planned new tenants. The company in question is a 50-year-old UK engineering component manufacturer. It provides valves, hydraulic parts and control systems for many uses, including automotive, robotics, turbine/energy generation, general manufacturing, aerospace and defence applications."

Moog, founded in 1951, is a New York-based worldwide designer and manufacturer of precision components and control systems for use in missiles and military aircraft as well as in satellites, space vehicles, automated industrial machinery and marine and medical equipment. It has sales, engineering and manufacturing facilities in 26 countries, and its space products played a critical role in the landing of NASA’s Perseverance rover on Mars.

Stansted parish councillor Daniel Brett exposed UDC's property deal with Moog
Stansted parish councillor Daniel Brett exposed UDC's property deal with Moog

Cllr Reeve added: "Many well-established companies, such as Land Rover, Rolls Royce, Siemens and Airbus, supply our country’s defence industry and forces, but that does not make them part of the ‘arms trade’. In turn, these companies are supplied by many tens of thousands of component manufacturers, such as UDC’s planned tenant. It would be even more inaccurate to characterise these component suppliers as being ‘in the arms trade’, let alone any landlord."

UDC also issued a statement. It said: "Uttlesford District Council would like to clarify information that is circulating in relation to one of its property investments. The council’s investment is in land and a new building on a site that is outside of the district.

"Whilst the details of the investment remain commercially sensitive, and therefore confidential, at this time, the council can confirm that the tenant is a well-established engineering and manufacturing company that provides valves, hydraulics parts and control systems for a wide variety of sectors including power/energy generation, aerospace and defence.

"The company’s use of the new building, which will be owned by the council, will be as a global facility for research, development and manufacturing, specifically for the aircraft control components sector.

"Like all of the council’s investments, this investment has been through a robust process of due diligence and governance. It was considered by the cross-party investment board and approved by full council following a wide-ranging debate that took into account the full range of issues.

"The purpose of this investment is to generate income for the council in order for it to underpin core services that it provides for the community. It forms part of a £300m commercial property asset portfolio, further details of which can be found in the commercial strategy on the council website at www.uttlesford.gov.uk."

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