A DONATION from one of Liverpool's leading developers towards the redevelopment of St George's Hall could lead the public to suspect unfair practice, it was alleged last night.
The claim was made by the very person responsible for critical development decisions in the city, chair of planning Lady Doreen Jones.
The Daily Post has learned that both Lady Jones, a former Lord Mayor of the city, and solicitor and St George's trustee Rex Makin, stormed out of a meeting which approved the Beetham donation of £200,000.
In return, Beetham will have a room at the hall renamed the Beetham Organisation Room.
However, Lady Jones said she thought it wrong for the hall's trustees to accept a gift from a developer still actively involved in projects.
Beetham recently won planning permission for a second major residential tower on Old Hall Street, the controversial West Tower..
Despite her personal antipathy to the project it eventually passed after legal advice warned the council could face huge costs bill if Beetham challenged a refusal at appeal.
City council chief executive Sir David Henshaw informed the St George's trustees of the offer of the gift, which was accepted by a majority of the board members at a meeting last week.
Last night Beetham chairman Hugh Frost said: "We made the offer in response to a call by the council to support the hall.
"Our view was that we had enjoyed success in Liverpool and wished to put something back.
"St George's Hall is a symbol of Liverpool's past renaissance and we have played our part in the modern renaissance. We made the offer of the gift willingly and without any conditions."
Last night, Lady Jones said she was not concerned with Beetham but rather with the principle of accepting gifts from developers.
She said: "I am not opposed to donations or gifts, but it seems wrong to me for the council to be taking large sums of money from a developer actively involved in projects within the city.
"In my view everything has to be above board, and seen to be above board without the slightest hint of perceived favouritism.
"It is not a criticism of the Beetham organisation but the acceptance of money from active developers. The donation may well be given in good faith, but it is how the public perceives the gift that is paramount.
"I made it clear at the trustee board meeting that I was totally opposed to the donation. I collected my belongings and left the meeting. I made a dignified exit, but I could not participate in the rest of the meeting. It is completely wrong of us to take money in this way."
Mr Makin said: "I agree with the views expressed by Lady Jones and I walked out with her. It is quite improper for the council or the trustees to accept gifts in this way." Chairman of the Trust Board, Derek Morris, confirmed the board meeting had been stormy.
"The trust board was established to raise money for the restoration of the hall," he said. "We have to raise £2.4m and so far have reached about £1.5m. We invited successful business people to consider supporting our appeal. I have been assured by the chief executive (Sir David Henshaw) that the acceptance of Beetham's generous gift was entirely proper. It has been given with no conditions.
"The trustees are aware of their responsibilities and would never accept tainted money from anybody. I consider Beetham's offer to be very good and most welcome."