Sunday, 12 November 2017

No records kept of Cllr Butt's closed-door meetings with Alperton tower developers

Plans for Minavil House site in Alperton
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Guest Post by Andrew Linnie

It has emerged that, contrary to Local Government Association advice, no minutes or notes were kept of three meetings between Brent Council Leader Muhammed Butt (Labour) and the developers of a controversial £150m tower in Alperton. Not only were there no notes kept, but the meetings took place in a short period before the project was due to be deliberated on by the planning committee, including one meeting the day before the decision was due to be made.

The LGA advises that such meetings, which can be beneficial in allowing councillors and developers to discuss pertinent matters, should take place in the formative stages of a plan. However, meeting with developers and their representatives the day before the council is due to rule on a scheme, especially one of such scale, is unprecedented and brings the entire planning process into disrepute. Councillors are expected to ensure that there is no possibility of predetermination. The final meeting took place on May 23rd of this year, the day before the committee met to decide. The two previous meetings were in the preceding weeks, on April 5th and May 10th respectively. At the latter, Butt and the council’s lead for regeneration Cllr Shama Tatler also accepted lunch as hospitality from the developer’s representatives.

The 26-storey tower is well above the 17-storey limit Cllr Butt and his colleagues promised for the area when they adopted the Alperton Masterplan in 2011. It was opposed by dozens of neighbours, and a petition I arranged, previously discussed on Wembley Matters LINK, gained over 200 signatures. The development was also criticised for failing light tests and being twice the maximum density for the area. Cllr Butt’s colleagues representing Alperton admitted in a letter that many concerns were ignored, but claimed that there was nothing they could do. A freedom of information brought the lack of record keeping to light:

14 comments:

  1. Further to Andrew's blog above, this is the text of an email I have just sent to Debra Norman, Brent's Chief Legal Officer:-

    Dear Ms Norman,

    I am writing to you in your role as Brent Council's Monitoring Officer, to bring to your attention allegations of interference in decision making over planning applications, which, if true, are in clear breach of Brent's Planning Code of Conduct and Members' Code of Conduct.

    You will remember that, on 3 October, you replied on behalf of the Council to a Freedom of Information Act request I had made, about hospitality received on 10 May 2017 by two Cabinet members and two Senior Officers from Terrapin Communications Ltd, on behalf of some of their developer clients. I shared the information provided, and my views on it, in a blog on the "Wembley Matters" site on 5 October, which I believe I drew your attention to.

    As a result of my involvement in that matter, I received private email correspondence in early October from several Brent councillors, who shared information with me "in confidence". I responded to them, saying that I felt their allegations and supporting evidence should be passed on to you, as Monitoring Offier. I do not know whether any of them have done so, as they may be concerned about the personal consequences to their political careers if they were to "blow the whistle" on the Council Leader.

    I was not intending to get involved further, but information from another FoI request has been shared today on the "Wembley Matters" site, in a blog headed "No records kept of Cllr. Butt's closed-door meetings with Alperton tower developers", which I would suggest that you read at:
    http://wembleymatters.blogspot.co.uk/2017/11/no-records-kept-of-cllr-butts-closed.html

    In view of the concerns raised in that article, I felt it only right to ensure that you were made aware of the nature of the information I was given by councillors early last month, so that you can consider what action should be taken to stop the potentially illegal manipulation of Brent's planning process, and help to restore trust in that process, which many Brent residents feel has been brought into disrepute. Even though I cannot give the names of my sources, I believe that the information they gave me was in good faith, and is probably true.

    1) It is "common knowledge" among Brent councillors that there is "political interference" with the planning process at Brent Council.

    2) A former planning officer and a former legal officer at Brent Council have confirmed that there was direct interference by Cllr. Butt in planning decisions made.

    3) At least three current or former councillors on Brent's Planning Committee have admitted that Cllr. Butt has told them how to vote on planning applications - but none of them are willing to speak out publicly.

    I will copy the text of this email as a comment on today's blog article (see link above), so that it is in the public domain that this information has been given to you. Best wishes,

    Philip Grant.

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    Replies
    1. FOR INFORMATION:

      This comment has been posted as a separate blog article at:
      http://wembleymatters.blogspot.co.uk/2017/11/alleged-political-interference-in.html

      There are now additional comments on that "blog", for anyone who is interested in reading them.

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  2. Further to my comment above, you can read my 5 October guest blog about Cllr. Butt and hospitality from a property PR company, and comments on it (including Cllr. Butt's views on my involvement with Brent Council matters) at:
    http://wembleymatters.blogspot.co.uk/2017/10/cllr-butt-and-hospitality-from-property.html

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  3. Well well well what a surprise..
    I don't think.
    Was the content of these meetings related to what Butt and co would like in return for ensuring it got through??
    The whole thing just stinks.

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    Replies
    1. Very apt, when your name is BUTT. Acting true to form. This blockage and stink should be removed as a matter or urgency. Just like the blocked main sewer in the High Road, outside old Brent House, the stench is now intolerable.

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  4. Why are we not surprised, and you also told us was Brent electorate voted were Remainers, what a load of tosh. To hell with Europe, let's just have a free for all, we in Brent have no regard for consultations, what the public think, rules and regulations, just scrap the Planning Service, its a complete waste of money, unless it's going into the individuals pockets, who are being wined and dined. We don't need to report or record anything, the public don't need to know, we will just decide amongst ourselves, by the time the shit hits the fan, we will be long gone!

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  5. If Debra Norman doesn't do anything about this then she is as corrupt as Butt is!! Not just a slap on the wrist for Butt with this matter, he should be sacked immediately for gross misconduct or at the very least suspended from his job pending investigation & making sure that it is an impartial investigation & not one carried out by his cronies in the Council!

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    Replies
    1. Dear Sandro,

      While I agree with much of what you have said, Ms Norman will not be able to do much if Brent councillors themselves do not act with integrity.

      I hope councillors will accept that their duty is to the truth, and to the high standards they have signed up to respect as our elected representatives, and NOT to cover up for any wrongdoing by the Leader of their Labour Group; and that they act accordingly in assisting the Monitoring Officer with her enquiries in this matter.

      Philip.

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    2. I doubt any of them can pronounce "Integrity" let alone spell it, or have any knowledge of what it stands for. Surely there must be grounds of appeal to stop this nonesense in light of your findings. This is Gross Misconduct by all concerned from the top to the bottom.

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    3. Dear Anonymous at 10:21,

      All of Brent's councillors SHOULD know what "integrity" is, and how they should exercise it in practice, because they receive training and updates on this and the other general conduct principles for public life.

      If you don't believe this, look at Brent Council's Annual Governance Statement - you will find this hidden away on the Council's website, several layers within the "Transparency in Brent" section, at:
      https://www.brent.gov.uk/media/16408924/ags-201617-signed.pdf

      The opening line of this document says:
      'Brent Council (The Council') is responsible for ensuring that its business is conducted in accordance with the law and proper standards, and that public money is safeguarded and properly accounted for, and used economically, efficiently and effectively.'

      Section 3.3, headed "Behaving with integrity, demonstrating strong commitment to ethical values, and respecting the rule of law", contains a paragraph saying:
      '3.3.5 All councilors receive training on the requirements of the Code of Conduct and related issues. Monitoring Officer Advice Notes give advice to members on decision making and standards of conduct.'

      For added reassurance, the document carries the signatures of the Leader of the Council and its Chief Executive.

      Philip.

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  6. Has somebody been caught out with his trousers round his knees then?
    Ha ha ha ha ha !;;

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  7. Councillor's need to step up. They should be ashamed to be connected with all of this. Their reputation and future careers are on the line.

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    Replies
    1. Dear Anonymous at 10:15,

      Unfortunately, because of the level of control which Cllr. Butt appears to have over the Labour Party in Brent, when some councillors think about their future careers being "on the line", they see it in terms of being deselected and/or having the Labour whip withdrawn if they say anything against him.

      As I have said in a reply to Sandro above, they owe it to the residents of Brent who elected them (and who they will invite to elect them again next May) to put their duty to us above any urge to protect the Council Leader, if they are aware that he has abused his position.

      Philip.

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  8. We must also now look at how these dodgy grants of planning permission can be overturned before the developers get away with their misdeeds.

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