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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 November 7, 2017 at 23:17

Christo - No doubt you have your own theories to account for the "grotesque failure" you refer to. It occurs to me that if the City was legally "entitled" to extract more cash for the "in lieu" contribution then it would have done so. Indeed, it might have been unlawful not to have done so. As I understand it there is an "affordability" get-out clause in the legislation and the in-lieu contribution accepted was the result of an independent third party analysis addressing the "affordability" issue. So, one man's grotesque failure is another's obeying the law. 

You ask me what I have been doing to encourage social housing construction elsewhere (although I hope that I am allowed to express my view irrespective of what I have or have not been doing on that score). Hopefully what does deserve some credit (not that it is all down to me) is the City Corporation's self-imposed target of adding a further 3,700 social housing units in London by 2025 (about 1.5 Barbican Estates or 6 Golden Lane Estates). I see this as a very ambitious target, and I am not by any means confident it will be achieved, but it shows the right attitude.  

I suspect you would have some difficulty persuading the new residents on City Estates in other Boroughs that they should swap their votes in that Borough for votes in City elections. Such residents are hardly disconnected, as matters currently stand, from the City of London's Officers and politicians in relation to Housing matters anyway. I am indeed part of the City Corporation, just as all elected members are. I by no means always like what I see, but disbelief and horror overdo it as far as I am concerned. 

Comment by Stewart Home on November 7, 2017 at 16:19

David Graves, sorry to take a while to get back to you but I’ve been thinking about what might bring younger people into Cripplegate ward meetings since you asked me about it. Perhaps something sports related rather than classical music would be good. However even more thrilling as far as I'm concerned would be a talk about how the council’s sovereign wealth fund City’s Cash subsidises everything from Mark Boleats’s report for the Housing & Finance Institute (many of us only learned about this in the past few days) to what City Metric has called the cheapest booze in London for those with seats at The Guildhall and who are therefore allowed to use its bar. I’m sure a younger audience would also be keen to learn more about how the relocation of the Museum of London to what I take to be a Smithfield part of City's Cash's core 14-hectare landholding within the ‘Square Mile’ will impact its revenues (if at all).

While we’re on the subject of Mark Boleat, I recall at the ward meeting you described his report as being littered with typos, that you suggested perhaps reflected the amount of thought that had gone into the document. Could you clarify whether you were looking at a draft copy that has perhaps been updated? I’ve scanned through this document and to me it doesn’t seem any worse on this score than say what can be seen in The Guardian. You said you’d marked up the screed for errors; if you have time perhaps you could scan and upload a few pages of your copy so that I can see whether I’m missing something or the text has been corrected. Thanks.

Comment by David Graves (your Alderman) on November 2, 2017 at 20:36

Stewart - you have an accurate memory, although in a "for the record" sense while Mark Boleat has had a "portfolio career" for a while, the fact that he no longer has an unpaid but more than full-time job as Chairman of the City's Policy and Resources Committee means that he can develop the portfolio further - as in becoming Chairman of the Housing Finance Institute. No doubt there are other irons in the fire too. The "yesterday's man" remark, to be literally accurate, was "somewhat" yesterday's man - as former Chairmen of Policy and Resources continue to be influential in City circles while the "leading edge" has shifted to Mark's successor, Catherine McGuinness. 

What you say about the Barbican demographic is interesting - it wasn't long ago when the Barbican was referred to as one of the best nursing homes in the country. So, if you are saying that your experience of the Barbican demographic is of a much younger group than was the average at the meeting last week this is genuinely interesting. I think it has been said that whatever the demographic of an area, ie however young, it tends to be the older element within that demographic that tends to turn out for meetings like the one we had last week - so it might not be a surprise if there is a slight disconnect between the average age last week versus the average age of Barbican residents as a whole. There is no conscious aim to exclude younger people (indeed one of the Common Councilmen at the meeting is on the "right side" of 30, I believe) so if you have ideas about how to connect with the younger residents I am very happy to listen. 

Aside from assumption, I am not sure what I said at the meeting to give the impression that I am "very pro-new concert hall". I thought I was scrupulously neutral on that point. That said, I am not in any sense setting myself up in opposition to the idea. I think you are right that I sometimes make tongue in cheek comments, just to illustrate a point clearly. However, the meeting was not a formal "decision-making" event and the show of hands was, as has been said, unscientific and a snapshot. It has no binding value or consequences. With both the Culture Mile and the potential Concert Hall everything will depend on the actual implementation of the concept. Concepts as such are rarely threatening, and more culture in the vicinity is no more than a potential threat to residential amenity for those living in the "cultural zone". I suspect that the residents of Bunhill Ward (accepting that LSO St Luke's are in the Ward of Bunhill) have far less at stake than Aldersgate and Cripplegate residents so I don't seek to disenfranchise Bunhill, but I have to remember that I am the Cripplegate Alderman, not the Bunhill Alderman. 

Comment by Stewart Home on November 2, 2017 at 14:55

Thanks for your clarification David. I was at the meeting and my recollection was that you described Boleat as having a portfolio career and as 'yesterday's man'. However since I didn't take notes about what you said with regard to this I thought it better not to rely on memory and ask about it. If my memory of your words is faulty please correct them. I prefer to work from recorded sources. My comment about interests was slightly tongue in cheek. I was trying to use humour to make the point that you do seem to be coming from a very pro-new concert hall standpoint. I viewed your comments on the vote below as being made in a similar slightly cheeky way. That said, I would stress that as a demographic those at the meeting didn't seem to me to be a good match to my daily experience of who lives in Cripplegate. Admittedly I don't live in The Barbican but I know people who do, nearly all of whom are younger than what looked like the average age of those present. My impression was that being older than the median age in the ward was not the only way in which those present failed to match the average demographic for our area. In other words, I stick by my point that I do not think those present or their views were representative of the ward as a whole. Given the circumstances I also remain impressed by how many were willing to put their hands up as not wanting the new concert hall even if they were in a minority at the meeting (but not among those I know in the ward). However I don't think this is a matter solely for Cripplegate residents or even those in the City. For example, among others, the views of the residents in the neighbouring Bunhill ward in Islington - which is home to LSO St Luke's - should also be taken into consideration.

Comment by David Graves (your Alderman) on November 2, 2017 at 9:23

Stewart - I was given the opportunity to comment to City Matters by Jo Davy, the Deputy Editor, saying they would be in touch with all Members present at the meeting as well as some in the other residential Wards. I don't know whether Mark, Mary and William were the only people who responded or the only "responders" who made the cut, but it is the case that I did not e-mail back to Jo offering further comment. It sounds as though you were not at the meeting, because if you had been there it would have been clear to you that I, like all the Members present, have severe problems with the report and in particular that none of us support the recommendation to remove local elected Members from Planning Committees. In my opinion, there are other ways of addressing the housing crisis which respect local democracy in planning matters rather than seeking to abolish it. 

I stepped down as Chairman of the Board of Governors at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in 2015, and I am now in my final year as a Governor there. In terms of declaring an interest, I have no personal financial or pecuniary interest to declare and my connection to the School as a Governor is already declared and is publicly available. I did not "vote" in the show of hands at the meeting, and it was not my idea to ask for a show of hands, which came with no advance warning to me from William Pimlott (and I do not criticise William in any way for this, by the way). Yes, the GSMD is a partner in the Culture Mile and in relation to the proposed concert hall, but I can't see that I did anything wrong. It would have been completely daft for me to have said - let's do as William suggests, but as I am a Governor of the GSMD I shall leave the room and ask someone else to take charge of the show of hands. Or even, less dramatically, to say, ok, let's do as William suggests, but before we start, I need to let you know that I am a Governor of the GSMD which is a partner, etc, etc. 

Comment by Stewart Home on November 1, 2017 at 23:28

I see three Cripplegate councillors are quoted on page 3 of the current City Matters (1-7 November 2017) criticising Mark Boleat's recent Housing & Finance Institute Report 'The Housing Problem in London: A Broken Planning System'. I wondered why David Graves is absent from the piece entitled 'Councillors cry foul over housing report'? Perhaps our Cripplegate Alderman could clarify whether the journalist responsible simply overlooked him, or if his position on planning process and democracy is significally different to Mark Bostock, William Pimlott and Mary Duncan? Moving on, with regard to the unscientific vote on the new concert hall, shouldn't David Graves declare an interest in the matter since I understand he is (or was) Chairman of the Governors of the Guildhall School of Music & Drama? It seems the Guildhall School is a partner in the Culture Mile and is backing the new concert hall.

Comment by David Graves (your Alderman) on October 30, 2017 at 17:08

Fred - yes, I think you are right about Peter Bennett's role - he retired as City Surveyor roughly a couple of years ago, and I think was in that role when the sale to Taylor Wimpey was set up. From memory, he wrote a broadly supportive letter to the Planning Department during the formal consultation period for the planning application on behalf of the Tudor Rose Court Residents' Association, where I think he is/was Secretary or Chairman. I also take your general point as regards Members of the Plannning Committee not familiar with the area who chose not to attend the site visit - possibly they were away at the time or had some other reason for not attending, but I support your point in principle. 

Christo - I am not sure what exactly you are objecting to in my point about some business Ward Members voting against the BMH proposal. It supports my proposition that it is simplistic to see local democracy entirely through a prism of "resident Members" versus "non-resident Members". If some non-resident Members vote with resident members on a planning issue like BMH I am very happy to applaud that, to encourage, not work with overly broad statements.

True, I then make a generalisation which raises very broad socio-economic issues and which is a perfectly debatable proposition relating to society as a whole and not one that is particular to the City of London. You mention social housing for rent where as I am sure you know I have pointed out that you can create more homes per £ spent outside the Square Mile than using public funds to create £1m+ council flats. On the basis you can't spend the same money twice do you want more homes or fewer homes? Tell me you want fewer homes, not more? On Great Arthur House, the tenants get better homes to live in after the works complete. For the Long Leaseholders, I agree that the cost escalation will need to be justified and I understand there is already a legal challenge regarding the costs. The value of the flats once the works complete will be greater than the value before the works, all else being equal, and I would have been very happy for the original estimate to prove to be an under-estimate. I am not happy about how this has panned out, and I don't expect anyone else to be happy about it, given the delays in completing the project, never mind the costs. 

I never said everything is perfect, or that there are no "have not's" in the City, never mind in society as a whole, what I was alluding to is that I think all residents as owners, tenants of the Corporation or sub-tenants, have at least an indirect interest in the success of the City of London as a successful business centre. Like any generalisation it is partly true - I would say mostly true for most City of London residents, but I never said it was universally true.  

 

Comment by Fred Rodgers on October 30, 2017 at 12:43

David, I think Peter Bennett was still City Surveyor when his department approved the plans for the development as freeholder of BMH. If he "responded in general positively to the development proposal on behalf of the residents of TRC", who did he respond to? 

I thought you were away when the site visit took place but around 10 Committee members visited the site although, at least, one didn't make the meeting. I'm sure that many of those who didn't make the visit were neither familiar with the area nor concerned about the affect of the development, and still aren't.

Comment by David Graves (your Alderman) on October 30, 2017 at 12:22

Fred - for the record I never suggested Mary and William were the problem here. I am sure they made the relevant points clearly and effectively. I won't repeat here my point that repetition is, in my view, and writing as a former Member of the Planning Committee, counter-productive - but now I just have. These points rarely get better by simple repetition - you either accept them or disagree. Site visits are useful for those unfamiliar with the site, but as a Member for Cripplegate I am very familiar with the site, and as I believe you are aware, site visits are expressly not to be used as an opportunity for "advocacy" for one view or another. Peter Bennett lives in Tudor Rose Court, next door to the site - and I was told responded in general positively to the redevelopment proposal on behalf of the residents of Tudor Rose Court. I was indeed responding to Christo's post on the resident/business Members point. 

Comment by Fred Rodgers on October 30, 2017 at 11:01

David, William and Mary are not the problem here. They did all they could on behalf of their electors, despite only having been on Common Council for two months. Had seven - I think the other two CCs, as members of the Committee, could have asked questions, as Mark did, Sue being away - of you all said the same thing, it may actually have got a message across to the Committee that there was a very valid point that needed proper consideration. I should not excuse your colleagues in Aldersgate here either. From memory, and apologies in advance if I'm wrong, Joyce Nash was the only one of the four non-committee members there who was actively involved on behalf of their electors in Cobalt House. Peter Bennett - not even representing either ward - made the site visit but none of the non-committee members from the two wards took up my invitation. Whether seeming silly and juvenile would have changed anything we don't know but doing so could surely not have made matters any worse, could it? Not having made any distinction between resident and business wards, I presume you are referring to Christo's post. However, whatever way the 23 members of the 35 strong committee voted, had two more voted against, the proposal would not have passed. That not two of the 13 could have been persuaded that as stakeholders in society they had a responsibility to that society was, unfortunately, never questioned. Voting against would not have stopped the redevelopment in some form or other but the other might have prevailed in the end.    

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