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Common councillor meeting in Cripplegate - conflicts of interest, participation in the planning process, culture mile

This week one of the regular meetings between Common Councillors, our Alderman and residents took place.

This was an unusual meeting as it started with a presentation by Sir Nicholas Kenyon, managing director of the Barbican Centre on the Culture Mile.  This is a joint initiative between local arts venues and the City of London.  It envisages over a period of perhaps fifteen years, creating a district with an identifiable sense of destination linking to the new Museum of London at Smithfield with the Barbican Centre.  The most immediate change is likely to be improvements to the Beech Street tunnel.  The audience was almost unanimous in its support for a project which will increase the quality of the public realm as well as signage, mapping and graphic design. There was also a lot of support for the proposed concert hall on the Museum of London site.

I asked the panel a question about the recently published report on housing by former chair of policy Mark Boleat. See the Evening Standard for the details. All of those on the panel distanced themselves from Boleat's report and comments.

Here is a quote from the article:

"London's housing crisis can only be solved by a radical overhaul of the “deeply flawed” planning system to rein in selfish middle class “Nimbys,” a provocative new report argues today.

"In comments that will anger conservation and resident bodies, former City of London Corporation supremo Sir Mark Boleat said current rules “give far too much weight to articulate groups who make a lot of noise” and not enough weight to young “have-nots” who are priced off the housing ladder."

I also asked a question about the recent article by Anna Minton in the Guardian.  This had focussed on alleged conflicts of interest by those on planning committee who were also commercial planners or developers.  See in particular paragraph four which is quoted here: "The story follows a by-now-familiar plot. In May 2017 planning approval was given to Taylor Wimpey, despite strong opposition from local residents and businesses. During this process it emerged that the chair of the City’s planning and transportation committee, Chris Hayward, is a director of Indigo Planning, whose clients include Taylor Wimpey. Deputy chair James Thomson was formerly deputy chief financial officer and chief operations officer of Cushman and Wakefield, commercial property and real estate consultants, which marketed and sold Bernard Morgan House to Taylor Wimpey. The committee member and former lord mayor of London Sir Michael Bear was appointed chair of the planning consultancy Turley Associates – which also acts for Taylor Wimpey – a few weeks after planning approval was granted."

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Comment by David Graves (your Alderman) on October 30, 2017 at 9:07

To respond to Fred's question, there are 9 Cripplegate elected Members altogether, 8 Common Councilmen (two of whom are on the Planning Committee) and one Alderman (not on the Planning Committee). In theory all 9 of us could have spoken, either as Committee Members or from the lecturn which is where non-Committee Members speak from. The Committee dislikes having the same points repeated because they believe they are able to grasp points about loss of resident amenity without them needing to be repeated several times before they actually understand what is being said. So, it is counter-productive to have lots of people all saying the same thing, and the Chairman is likely to intervene to prevent this by saying only new points. So, theoretically, all 9 of us could each have thought of just one point to make, and each gone to the lecturn or stood up in Committee to make that one point. Personally, I don't think that would have been effective, and I rather think instead that it would have seemed a bit silly and juvenile to the Committee members, So, that would have wasted time and been counter-productive in my view. I suppose as the Alderman I could have pulled rank (again only theoretically as we all have a mandate to speak) and suggested that Mary and William (for example) give me their points so I could make them, plus any additional points that needed to be made. So, Fred, let me ask a question back, is that what Mary and William should have agreed to, if I had asked them? 

On the resident versus business Ward issue, there is a danger of being far too simplistic about this. The BMH decision was approved on a 10 - 13 vote. You cannot explain the 10 votes against by supposing that these were the "resident" representatives as a block. The vote against would have been lower in that case. What this demonstrates is that some business Ward Members also voted against. Whether they were defying "their" voters, or being objective, of following their consciences, you decide. And beware before going too far down the "indirect profit" line - as residents it is arguable that we all make an indirect profit through the success of the City of London, and keeping it that way. Indirect profit is what makes the world go around - more so I would argue than direct profit. We are all stakeholders in society. 

    

Comment by Fred Rodgers on October 29, 2017 at 11:42

I'm sorry I had to miss the meeting. However, whilst both Mary Durcan and William Pimlott both addressed the Planning and Transportation Committee. admirably speaking out against the scheme on behalf of the local residents, where were the voices of our other elected representatives, including our Alderman? Two CCs are members of the Committee but the four others seemed to have remained silent, despite the considerable number of objections from their electors. Whether their distancing themselves from Mark Boleat's report and comments augurs well for the future. Surely the four "silent" members have all been on Common Council for a number of years and should have able to influence their colleagues on the Committee. After all, only two Committee members voting in favour had to be persuaded to vote against, in order change the outcome. An explanation would be welcome for this apparent failure of local representation.

Comment by Emma Matthews on October 29, 2017 at 8:17

Mark Boleat is the Chair of HFI, the Housing and Finance whose slogan is; 'Working together to build the homes we need' He has written a report which says;

‘representatives of an area in which a development would take place should be excluded from voting on that decision’

His argument, as reported by the Evening  Standard on 18 October, is that 'selfish middle class nimbys' stop homes being built.

Boleat voted to approve a gross development in the City which doesn't contain any affordable homes and he accepted, with other committee members who don't live in the City, that TW's miserly contribution towards affordable homes (less than half what it should have been) was acceptable because TW had paid too much for the site!

The decision to sell the site for £30.4million to TW and to approve the Denizen wasn't made by local people or people who were democratically elected by local people. So Boleat's argument that local people stop developments of the 'homes we need' is spurious if you take the City of London as an example. In the City most of the members of the Planning and Transportation Committee don't have to worry about losing votes from local people because they don't represent local people, as David Graves says;

'Mark Boleat is not elected by residents so he is hardly going to resign because he has represented the people who elected him, ie the business community.' 

That makes it very clear why the Denizen was approved and why the ideas in Mark Boleat's report for the HFI will not 'build the homes we need'. They will only build more luxury investment properties which will benefit the business community and the 106 payment will continue to be reduced because developers can't afford to pay more. 

David Graves makes it clear, Mark Boleat and other members who voted to approve the Denizen did so because they 'represent the people who elected them, i.e. the business community' while local people's concerns and desires for more affordable homes are ignored.

It seems that the 'selfish middle class' are more likely in the 'business community' who voted for these councillors and these are the people who are stopping developments of 'the homes we need'. 

Here's link to the Denizen!

The Denizen Brochure

Comment by David Graves (your Alderman) on October 28, 2017 at 22:19

I was impressed by the numbers attending the meeting - the room had a capacity of 100 seats and nearly all seats were occupied. Even more gratifyingly, there was no mass exodus after Nick Kenyon had left - the admittedly unscientific vote on the Culture Mile and then the proposed Concert Hall was from those that remained after Nick had left, so anyone "lured" there simply to cheer for culture would have left when the unexpected (by me) vote took place.

On conflicts of interest, there is no rule that resident councillors cannot vote on matters that affect the generality of residents, as opposed to matters which financially affect them, in particular. Similarly, there is no bar on property professionals (architects, surveyors, lawyers) or developers as such, from voting in planning matters as long as they have no direct financial interest in the outcome. Mark Boleat is not elected by residents so he is hardly going to resign because he has represented the people who elected him, ie the business community. 

Aside from not being able to vote due to having a direct financial interest in a planning matter, it is also a requirement (because planning decisions are quasi-judicial in nature) that each member of the Planning Committee keeps an open mind until the Committee meeting itself. So, if you register as an objector to an application you have pre-determined the matter and you would not then be allowed to vote - it is not that you have "an interest" but rather that you have pre-judged the matter. This is why local Members on the Planning Committee have to choose their words very carefully if asked whether they oppose a development because if they say they are an objector prior to the planning meeting, they will not be able to cast a vote at the critical time. 

Comment by Emma Matthews on October 27, 2017 at 21:01

I hope that Mark Boleat will resign after his accusations that anyone who objects to new developments are 'selfish middle class nimbys'. People in Bowater House objected to the Denizen because it doesn't replace the key-worker homes which used to be on the site. We wanted decent affordable housing here not unneeded luxury apartments. The Bernard Morgan re-development is a perfect example to show why Boleat's ideas will just lead to even more suspicion of corruption within the planning and development industry.

Mark Boleat is a councillor who does not represent local people, he does not live in the City, he was voted in on the business vote. Not only did speak in favour of the development at the Planning and Transport Committee meeting he also voted to Approve it. Knowing it contained no affordable homes and the 106 agreement was half what it should have been. One of his arguments to approve was that Taylor Wimpey had lost so much money already because of the delays in it coming to committee! 

Boleat was also on the Police Committee and Property Investment Board during 2014 and 2015 when the decision was made to both close and sell the Police Section House. If Planning Guidelines had been followed then this development should have 33 affordable homes. It is being marketed in Hong Kong as The Denizen, a block of luxury apartments, containing a private cinema and marble floors. The expense of all this unnecessary luxury and the fact that TWCL paid £30.4million for the site means that they can’t afford to meet the Local Plan requirements and the City of London and Mark Boleat have accepted this excuse.

Was Boleat involved in the decision to sell to TW for £30.4million? I don't know but if the City accepted such a huge amount for the site did they accept also that TW would not be able to afford the Local Plan's requirement for 30% on site or 60% off site affordable homes? 

Where does that leave Boleat's argument that local people and democratically elected local councillors are stopping developers providing much needed homes? Most of the City's councillors don't represent local people and so we get the Denizen which breaches so many of the Local Plan's guidelines and provides only unnecessary unneeded luxury investment properties being marketed in the Far East. 

Comment by Paul Lincoln on October 27, 2017 at 18:39
I am keen to see what procedures are used to address conflicts of interest. As I said at the meeting, I work for a charity which imposes sensible protocols on its staff and trustees. I am not sure why a local authority would or should have lower standards than those of a charity.
Comment by Stewart Home on October 27, 2017 at 18:06

I thought there was an impressive amount of opposition to the proposed new concert hall given how many classical music fans had been lured to the meeting by the promise of a talk about Culture Mile by Nicholas Kenyon, rather skewing the results of an informal vote. On top of that Kenyon gave us a completely false choice between a concert hall and an office block; there are other options. I also thought the issue of Anna Minton's Guardian piece which you raised was dealt with inadequately by those who replied. Since it isn't just an issue of those named being developers which was addressed, but their connections to firms working with Taylor Wimpey which wasn't addressed at all by those who replied. I also felt the defence of the City of London as NOT being corrupt like Mediterranean countries or T. Dan Smith in the north east of England was unhelpful; the City of London is a unique political entity and as a result if there are corruption issues they are unlikely to resemble those in Mediterranean countries or even on other councils in the UK. I was left with the impression that some parties either weren't properly informed on this matter or were unwilling to have a serious discussion about it. Hopefully it was the former and once they've looked into this matter they'll acquit themselves far better on it.

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