Thursday, 27 April 2017

How Brent residents were left out in the cold over Tottenham's Wembley Stadium planning application

As Tottenham Hotspur prepare to make an announcement about their 2017-18 season at Wembley Stadium a Freedom of Information Request (embedded below) by former councillor Paul Lorber has revealed that Brent Council leader Muhammed Butt and Chief Executive Carolyn Downs met on October 5th 2016 with representatives of Tottenham Hotspur and the Football Association* about the planning application to increase the number of full capacity events at Wembley Stadium.

There followed a number of meetings between Brent officers, sometimes including Carolyn Downs and Head of Planning Alice Lester and Wembley National Stadium Limited, Tottenham Hotspur, Lichfield Planning and Momentum Transport Planning.

On December 12th 2016  Wembley National Stadium Limited made a presentation to councillors about their plans. Present were Cllrs McLennan (Deputy Leader), Agha (Vice Chair of Planning Committee who eventually chaired the decision making meeting),  Miller, Hirani, Choudhury, Mahmood, Long, Moher, Colwill, Maurice, Marquis and Carolyn Downs, Alice Lester, David Glover (Planning Officer for the application) Chris Bryant (Wembley Stadium Limited) Richard Serra (Tottenham Hotspur). Nick Baker (Lichfields) and Roy McGowan (Momentum Transport Planners). Councillors were able to ask questions about the application.

Another meeting took place on February 20th 2017:


On March 8th 2017 Tottenham, Lichfield and Momentum made a glossy presentation to Alice Lester, David Glover and Christopher Heather:




It can be argued that some of these meetings between the applicants and Brent officers were essential to ensuring that there was a dialogue over the application.  However, the early involvement of Cllr Butt gives the impression that things were fixed at an early stage in terms of the principle of lifting the cap. Moreover it is surely wrong that councillors, including members of the Planning Committee were, in my view, lobbied, way back in December by the applicants.

All this took place without residents knowing what was going on and they, with limited resources, had to scramble to mount a case against the application at very short notice based on how it would disrupt their quality of life. On the other hand councillors had known about the case for a very long time.

Imagine the residents and their organisations having the same access to officers and councillors as Tottenham Hotspur, Wembley National Stadium Limited, Lichfields and Momentum Transport?

Instead it is clear that residents didn't have a chance and it is to their credit that they achieved so much despite the odds being stacked against them.

* The FoI response states no meetings took place with the FA but that is contradicted in the next paragraph.

The FoI Response:





15 comments:

  1. My initial reaction on reading this blog was that, surely, the members of Planning Committee who attended the briefing(s) from the applicant should have disclosed that publicly at the meeting where they heard and approved the Wembley Stadium application.

    However, on checking Brent's Planning Code of Practice, I found that it says (under the heading "Approaches to members of the Planning Committee"):

    '26. If an approach is made to a member of the Planning Committee from an applicant or agent or objector or other interested party in relation to a particular planning
    application or any matter which may give rise to a planning application, the member of the Planning Committee shall:

    (i) inform the person making such an approach that such matters should be addressed to officers or to members who are not members of the Planning Committee.

    (ii) disclose the fact and nature of such an approach at any meeting of the Planning Committee where the planning application or matter in question is considered; and

    (iii) record the approach in the register maintained by the Monitoring Officer under paragraph 18.

    For the avoidance of any doubt, if the applicant, agent or objector or other interested party attend and/or speak at a Council organised briefing for members of the Planning Committee then that briefing does not constitute an approach which has to be registered with the Monitoring Officer or disclosed under (ii).'

    Therefore, if the Planning Committee members were ONLY "approached" at a briefing for Planning Committee members organised by the Council itself, there is a "let out" for them not being open and transparent with the public that they were "approached".

    NOTE: One proviso I should make to the above, and which I will look at further, is that the only version of Brent Council's Constitution (which includes the Planning Code of Practice) available on the Council's website is dated Thursday 13th April 2017. The Planning Committee meeting which approved the Wembley Stadium application was on Thursday 23rd March. I wonder ...?!

    Philip.

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    1. Further to my comment of 27 April above, I have now found an earlier version (June 2015) of Brent's Constitution (in documents attached to the some Council minutes from September 2015).

      The Planning Code of Practice in that version DID include (in what was then para. 24) the final section:
      'For the avoidance of any doubt, if the applicant, agent or objector or other interested party attend and/or speak at a Council organised briefing for
      members of the Planning Committee then that briefing does not constitute an approach which has to be registered with the Monitoring Officer or disclosed under (ii).'

      Having said that, it does seem odd that (as shown in the minutes of the 23rd March 2017 Planning Committee meeting which approved the increase in 90,000 capacity games for Spurs next season), all members of the committee, and councillors who addressed the meeting in person, had to disclose all the "approaches" they had received from local residents, businesses (and groups representing them) who opposed the application, but did not have to disclose the "briefing" they had received from the applicant, Wembley Stadium!

      One of the opening paragraphs of Brent's Planning Code of Practice states (with my capitals for emphasis):
      'The Code seeks to ensure that officers and members consider and decide planning matters in A FAIR IMPARTIAL AND TRANSPARENT MANNER. The provisions of this code are designed TO ENSURE THAT PLANNING DECISIONS are taken on proper planning grounds, are
      applied in a consistent and OPEN MANNER and that members of the Planning Committee making such decisions are, AND ARE PERCEIVED AS BEING, accountable for those decisions. The Code is also designed to assist members of the Council in DEALING WITH AND RECORDING APPROACHES FROM DEVELOPERS and objectors and is intended TO ENSURE THAT THE INTEGRITY OF THE DECISION-MAKING PROCESS IS PRESERVED.'

      How can the planning process meet these aims if applicants are given direct access to Planning Committee members well before they consider an application, AND the Planning Code of Practice tells those members that they do not need to record or disclose that "approach" to the public? To me, that is neither being fair, nor open, nor transparent!

      Philip.

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    2. It leaves a very nasty taste in the mouth doesn't it.

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  2. This surely leads to other very important questions that need to be asked to ensure validity of the decision in this case and steps which need to be taken to ensure integrity of future planning decisions.

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  3. Thanks Philip. The whole thing is beginning to look rather sordid isn't it?

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  4. As was thought by most of the residents, this was a done deal long before it reached the planning application stage. Let's now see if THFC actually seal it on April 30th 2017 which is the deadline given by them.

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  5. And this is what is so unacceptable that "done deals" are presented to the public as though they were not. Who paid for all this other than us? and then we find we were conned completely. We must not let it rest and just be buried.

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  6. This again just appears to show that the whole concept of democracy no longer exists within Brent. Apart from a handful of decent councillors the whole thing seems to be rotten to the core.

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  7. The announcement that Tottenham Hotspur will be playing home games at Wembley next season surely makes it even more important for the truth to be winkled out what went on before the Planning Committee meeting and what did or didn't go on during the "comfort break"and why the wrong information was given out as to whether the decision could be deferred.

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  8. Same thing happened with the Brent Cross plans. Butt had a number of meetings with the develeopers and Brent then went awfully quiet on opposition or requests to improve the planse. But then, they don't impact on Quintainland, formerly known as Wembley Park.

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    1. er Wembley No Park

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  9. I just feel so sickened at the way in which the residents were duped and no-one had the honesty to say what was going on behind the scenes. Were the councillors who attended the meeting forced to keep it a secret? or what? Were all the councillors invited?
    Was it an official Planning Committee briefing? or what?

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    1. You have raised a very interesting question, Anonymous (29 April at 17:02). WAS IT an official Planning Committee briefing?

      I will repeat the key wording from para.26 of Brent's Planning Code of Practice again, for ease of reference, this time with capital letters for emphasis:
      '... if the applicant, agent or objector or other interested party attend and/or speak at A COUNCIL ORGANISED BRIEFING FOR MEMBERS OF THE PLANNING COMMITTEE then that briefing does not constitute an approach which has to be registered with the Monitoring Officer or disclosed ....'

      It is ONLY if the meeting(s) were Council organised briefings for members of the Planning Committee that the "approaches" from Wembley National Stadium Ltd ('the applicant') are excluded from the requirement for Planning Committee members to record such approaches in the register maintained by the Monitoring Officer, and the requirement to 'disclose the fact and nature of such an approach' at any Planning Committee meeting where the application is considered.

      It is clear from the FoI response received by Paul Lorber that the briefings in December followed on from a meeting on 25 November 2016 between Wembley, their agents and representatives of Tottenham Hotspur, with senior Brent Planning Officers, Carolyn Downs (for part of the time) AND Councillors Agha (Vice-Chair of Planning Committee) and Choudhury. The "matters to be discussed" at this meeting are said to have been Wembley's legal advice on the planning mechanism, timescales and transport and infrastructure. The "action point arising" was 'LBB to arrange Councillor briefing sessions'.

      These "Councillor briefing sessions" took place on 5 and 12 December 2016, and are described in the FoI response as: 'Presentation from WNSL and questions from Councillors.' They were NOT simply briefings 'for members of the Planning Committee', as other councillors also attended, including three members of the Cabinet (Cllrs. McLennan, Hirani and Miller) and the Opposition Leader (Cllr. Colwill). Other attendees included WNSL's planning agent(s), and representatives from Spurs (an 'interested party' in the subsequent planning application).

      On the basis of this closer examination of the facts, I believe that there are good grounds for saying that the "approach" to the Planning Committee members in December 2016 (and Cllr Agha's involvement in the 25 November meeting) SHOULD have been recorded by those members in the register maintained by the Monitoring Officer and SHOULD have been publicly disclosed at the Planning Committee meeting on 23rd March 2017.

      Having said this, I am not able to take up this point with Brent Council myself (I currently have another important "battle" on my hands). But if anyone else wants to take it up, they are welcome to use the information and arguments which I have set out in this, and earlier, comments. Good luck!

      Philip.

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    2. A FURTHER THOUGHT:-

      If anyone does want to take up the point that the Planning Committee members SHOULD have recorded and disclosed the briefing by Wembley Stadium Ltd, I would suggest the following.

      To obtain a copy of a key piece of evidence, submit an FoI request, asking for:
      1) a copy of the invitation(s) sent out (on or after 25 November 2016) to councillors in respect of the 'Presentation from WNSL and questions from Councillors' meetings on 5 and 12 December 2016.
      2) a full list of the councillors to whom this invitation was sent.

      Although the FoI response received by Paul Lorber says that 'there were no formal minutes produced', you might also wish to include:
      3) ANY notes made in respect of, by or on behalf of Brent Council officers or councillors, or follow-up correspondence arising from, the following meetings:
      a) the meeting on 5 October 2016 between Carolyn Downs, Cllr. Muhammed Butt and representatives of WNSL/the FA and Tottemham Hotspur;
      b) the meeting on 25 November 2016 between representatives of Brent Council and representatives of WNSL, their agents and Tottenham Hotspur.

      Philip.

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  10. Thanks Philip for your analysis and opinions on this....it didn't seem to tie up to me. Sadly I am unable to do the further work on this due to ill health and do not think I have the skills at the moment. If there is anyone out there who has and would like to take this forward and if we could get answers to the other questions I asked I would much appreciate it. There has been too much dodgy behaviour going on.

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