The Times newspaper said the amount was given to London-based media law firm Carter Ruck, which specializes in defamation cases. A spokesman for the authority told the newspaper it had taken advice about taking legal action against Middlesbrough MP Andy McDonald and the satirical magazine Private Eye.
Labor MP McDonald used parliamentary privilege in April to allege “corruption on an industrial scale” over the Teesworks development, citing a Private Eye article.
Private Eye has published a series of reports on the development, Mr Houchen – now Lord Houchen of High Leven – and two local developers Chris Musgrave and Martin Corney, who hold a majority stake in the taxpayer-funded site under a joint venture agreement .
Read more: A panel to investigate allegations of corruption at Teesworks is named
Mr Houchen, along with Mr Musgrave and Mr Corney, have denied any wrongdoing. An investigation into Teesworks is currently underway after Mr Houchen and Labour’s shadow leveling up secretary Lisa Nandy both called for an investigation.
The three-member panel will examine allegations of corruption, illegality and misconduct in addition to allegations of governance and financial management. The government has previously said it has seen no evidence of corruption, wrongdoing or illegality.
A spokesman for Mr Houchen told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that Mr Houchen himself had not retained lawyers and was not authorized to do so.
He said TVCA officials had sought advice to assess the legal situation on their behalf after “untrue and defamatory allegations were made against them” and its subsidiaries.
Meanwhile, Mr McDonald has repeatedly refused to repeat his allegations despite not being covered by parliamentary privilege, citing an interview with Radio 4 in which he was pressed on the matter earlier this year.
Mr Houchen has suggested that negative publicity surrounding Teesworks has deterred some potential investors in Teesworks – ahead of its demolition of the former Redcar steelworks site – citing the company Atlantic SuperConnector, which planned to build a cable factory at a coastal site in the north-east Renewable energy from thermal water could be transported from Iceland to Great Britain.
Mr Houchen said: “Andy McDonald has made allegations of criminality and corruption in Parliament but refuses to repeat these allegations outside Parliament where he can be sued.”
He said Mr McDonald’s comments had cost Teesside the opportunity to land Atlantic Superconnector, which would have brought “hundreds of millions of pounds and 2,000 jobs to our region”.
Mr McDonald said the legal advice requested was a “waste of public money”. He said: “I received no [legal] Write a warning of action and do not expect any action, because it is very clear that there is no reason for it.”
The MP said he understood Atlantic Superconnector had made the decision to locate the site at the Port of Tyne, but did not explain the reasons for this.
He said: “People won’t make their decisions based on what an MP might say at any given time, they will do their own due diligence and do their own research.”
Mr McDonald added: “Parliamentary privilege is there for a reason, otherwise we would be seeing part of our democracy shut down. We are quite familiar with strategic public participation lawsuits, where people are drawn into litigation for the precise purpose of silencing them.
Read more: Nine more North East Wilko branches have announced closure dates
“Freedom of expression is a valuable asset in our democracy and we undermine these and other values at our peril.”
Ian Hislop, the editor of Private Eye, said the £7,000 note was an “interesting use of public money for the regeneration of Teesside”.
He said: “Good to see Lord Houchen supporting one of the most disadvantaged sectors in the UK – London libel lawyers.”
A TVCA spokesman said: “The decision to seek legal advice was taken following a series of articles from Private Eye and comments from Middlesbrough MP Andy McDonald.
“False and unsubstantiated allegations of misconduct and impropriety have been made against South Tees Development Corporation and its joint venture partner Teesworks Ltd.”
He said the success of the project “could be seriously overshadowed by the allegations, which have a significant and worrying impact on investor confidence,” adding: “We have a responsibility to drive economic growth in our region , and that is why it is important that we protect the reputation of major projects – and those who lead them – from unfounded accusations.”
https://www.thenorthernecho.co.uk/news/23783783.teesworks-mayorben-houchens-office-spent-7-000-libel-lawyers/?ref=rss Teesworks: Mayor Ben Houchen’s office spent £7,000 on libel lawyers