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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 9, 2017 at 0:35

Fred - True, the new homes help to address a London-wide issue and are not exclusively focussed on reducing the City waiting list. Rightly or wrongly the main aim is to offer new homes, including social and affordable housing, not focussing solely on the City list. I do agree with the maths of Mark Boleat's point that 20% of a sufficiently big number is better than 50% or even 100% of a much smaller number. Also, if open market sales help to subsidise social housing, is that a bad thing if it delivers more social housing? Another point for discussion. 

Comment by Fred Rodgers on November 9, 2017 at 0:24

David -  As well as building new homes on its own sites, buying off plan and partially completed developments as well as re-purchase of RtB homes are also proposed methods of increasing CoL's housing stock. The difficulty with new build social housing outside the Square Mile is that nominations are usually shared with the relevant borough. This means the 700 homes are only likely to reduce CoL's 1000 plus waiting by 350. 

Comment by David Graves (your Alderman) on November 9, 2017 at 0:01

Fred - There must have been some sort of feasibility appraisal informing the viability of the target figure for the 3,000 homes not on existing Corporation estates, but I have not seen any supporting information for the assessment around the additional homes (and therefore the likely viability of meeting the target). Needless to say, the planning decisions around these new homes will rest with London Boroughs, not the City Corporation.

Comment by Fred Rodgers on November 8, 2017 at 23:56

David - Thanks for reminding me of the Report. I note that the dreaded HFI is to be one of the vehicles for delivery of the 3000 homes. Whilst 35% of those homes will, according to the Mayor's new policy, there are of course financial viability appraisals! Whatever number of affordable homes are built, the policy is that the remainder will be for ownership and/or market rent. I was under the impression that BNP Paribas was due to identify the proposed sites for the 3000 homes earlier this year. Has that been done?  

Comment by David Graves (your Alderman) on November 8, 2017 at 17:11

Fred - You are right to correct me, but not quite completely right. Out of the 3,700, as you say, at least 700 can potentially be built within the City Corporations Housing Estates across several Central London Boroughs. It can be assumed that these homes will be social housing for rent. The remaining 3,000 homes are, as you say, potentially deliverable in other sites across London which are not reserved for social housing but where the new homes being delivered will need to deliver additional "affordable" housing in accordance with local planning requirements. The funding of the social housing will be assisted from the use of planning gain money and from cross-subsidy from shared ownership and from market sales. In terms of justifying not delivering 3,700 social housing units, the explanation is that consideration needs to be given to assisting the vast majority of working households for whom subsidised housing "is not and cannot be available".

The full report can be found here:

http://democracy.cityoflondon.gov.uk/documents/s55966/ITEM%2015B%20...

Comment by David Graves (your Alderman) on November 8, 2017 at 12:45

Well, whether or not the result of these exchanges is that we all end up violently agreeing with each other, which might be a stretch, they are at least informative and in both directions. I was not aware that the City Corporation was a "Founding Member" of the HFI, which it turns out was established following an independent recommendation endorsed by the Coalition Government. The decision was to provide "core funding" of £40k per year for 3 years (core funding covering set-up and salary costs. The staff are referred to as a Chief Executive, Programme Director and part time Communications Assistant. Mark Boleat was referred to as the proposed Chairman of the HFI Board (that role not being contingent on the Corporation's decision on financial support. The City Corporation is one of several Founding Members. 

Now, we get to the lawyerly part of my response, in that the funding was not paid over to pay for Sir Mark's report - it was for set-up costs and salary costs (as stated in the report) and I would guess that Sir Mark's role as chairman is unremunerated. A "disclaimer" in Mark's report makes it clear that the views expressed are Mark's views - not those of the HFI or its members. The HFI has issued several publications and has received funding from several "sponsors" aside from the City of London Corporation. 

So, while it may be arguable that but for City Cash funding the HFI might never have been formed, and that might have meant no Mark Boleat report, it is only in that sense that one could say the report has been "subsidised" by City's cash based on a decision made openly and transparently and viewable on the City Corporation website. I am not on the P&R Committee and so missed this when it happened in September 2015, and thank you for pointing this out. 

On the cost of drinks, I stand by what I said. However, the "Guildhall Club" facilities include catering for Members attending Committee lunches - these are free of charge and that cost is subsidised from City's Cash - as are other examples of hospitality provided by the City Corporation to many organisations and groups including no doubt journalists as well. So, the press office is correct so far as it goes, but the drinks at the bar for Members are sold as I understand it at cost price given the "not for profit" principle the bar works on.  

Comment by Stewart Home on November 8, 2017 at 1:14

David Graves, my reason for believing City's Cash subsidised Mark Boleat's report are the minutes of a Meeting of Policy and Resources Committee, Thursday, 24th September, 2015 1.45 pm (Item 8.). Viz: "approval be given to the City of London Corporation becoming a founding member of the Housing & Finance Institute (HFI) at the cost of £40,000 per annum for 2015/16, 2016/17 and 2017/18, to be met from the Policy Initiatives Fund categorised under the New Areas of Work section and charged to City’s Cash..." Do you believe these minutes to be wrong? They were quoted on a WordPress blog the other day but checking them against the council website shows the quote to be accurate as far as the minutes recorded there go. I can't think why someone at the Corporation would falsify the minutes in this way but if you have reason to believe this is the case I'll weight up your evidence objectively. In the minutes as recorded on the Corporation website it clearly says money from City's Cash to go the Housing and Finance Institute from 2015 until 2018; this covers the period in which Mark Boleat's report was written and published. See: http://democracy.cityoflondon.gov.uk/mgAi.aspx?ID=41508

Likewise given the trouble Occupy London went to in trying to get the Corporation to reveal some details of the City's Cash fund, and ongoing interest in things like the Paradise Papers, I think a talk about City's Cash could pack in a lot of younger people.

As regards the Guildhall bar, Jonn Elledge in "Like no council canteen you’ve ever seen: on the drinks menu at the City of London’s Guildhall Bar" says he asked the Corporation press office which fund was subsidising the booze and was told "City's cash". Have the press office got it wrong? Is the journalist making this up? Do you think this information is inaccurate? See: http://www.citymetric.com/politics/no-council-canteen-you-ve-ever-s...

Sorry to force you to work as a proof reader but in today's world two typos a page or so isn't too bad. But yes my reference to the Guardian was intended to light-heartedly invoke that publication's reputation for errors of this sort, a result of their early adoption of direct compositing; but now it's standard practice all the papers are pretty much as bad as each other. However I do appreciate your stand on the matter since proofing and subbing are very undervalued these days.

Comment by Paul Lincoln on November 8, 2017 at 0:25
Fred
What is the significance of the Broken Court proposal?
Thanks
Paul
Comment by Fred Rodgers on November 8, 2017 at 0:14

David, I think the 3700 figure is 700 homes for social rent to be built on existing CoL estates, mostly outside the Square Mile. However 9 homes are being created from shops in Middlesex Street Estate. Also one or two homes are supposed to be created in GLE. the 3000 homes relates to private ones built on other land owned by CoL outside the Square Mile, which CoL intends selling to developers.

As far as Sir Mark Boleat is concerned, as I've posted elsewhere. it would be interesting to hear his comments next Tuesday on the Broken Wharf Court proposal when it comes before Planning and Transportation Committee.

 

Comment by David Graves (your Alderman) on November 7, 2017 at 23:36

Stewart - It seems, thanks to you, to be my lot both to debunk myths and to become Sir Mark Boleat's unpaid proof-reader! More for my burgeoning portfolio of unpaid work. Mark's report was published by the HFI, so I don't see how it was funded by City's Cash. There is a Member's Club at Guildhall for the elected Members to use, which has a bar as well as catering facilities. It operates for the Members on a non-profit basis, which obviously reduces the cost of drinks. In addition, as well as paying at cost for the wine served, the wine is typically bought ahead and stored, so the "at cost" price is not today's price but the price from a few years ago, when the wine was bought. The two factors combined mean that the "booze" is indeed very good value - I can't comment on how it compares with other clubs which work on the same principle. So, there's not really much to say about these items - maybe you are a "younger person" and I get the point regarding sport, but I am surprised if young people want to hear 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)."

So, back to Sir Mark's report, and my new job as unofficial proof-reader. I note your obviously tongue in cheek reference to the Grauniad (sic) newspaper, which, allegedly (see Private Eye) is notorious for its typographical errors. I have re-read the report this evening and here is my list of "obvious" typographical errors in the copy available here - http://thehfi.com/downloads/housingprobleminlondon.pdf:

Page 9 - "However, it is fair to point out that the purpose of the Green Belt is to limit “urban sprawl” rather to provide green space accessible to the public."

Page 9 - " There are sound logistical reasons for this. House building is labour intensive, and with large sites there needs to be a steady flow of work for the various skills that are required rather than, for example, trying to install bathrooms or kitchens in 4,000 units are exactly the same time."
Page 12 - "In a survey of 104 senior executives of housing associations in 2017, 72% said accessing development land was a major factor presenting housing delivery."
Page 13 - "Being given a council tenancy in some of the more desirable parts of London is the equivalent of being given a capital asset of well over £1 million – which though the right-to-buy is capable of being realised at a later date."
Page 13 - ". However, this all depends of what the purpose of rates is."
Page 14 - "The housing is capable of being sold at price a that will yield an adequate return to a developer."
Page 14 - "So in the example above, other thing being equal a £100,000 increase in the expected sale price would lead to an increase in the price the developer was willing to pay for the land from £175,000 a plot to nearer £275,000."
Page 18 - "Few small sites are available and even where there are they are likely to be complex to develop."
Page 22 - "In case areas there is scope for a “swap”, some existing Green Belt being reclassified and other “green” land being given Green Belt status."
Page 24 - "The primary role of elected members is to settle the overall plan for their area. If a development is in accordance with the plan then it should be an administrative matter to improve it."
Page 24 - " However, particularly in existing built up areas most planning applications are likely to depart in more or more respect from agreed policies..."
Page 25 - "Those members would be able to have they say to the panel..."
You can make up your own mind.

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