Shortly after being ousted as leader of Brent Council, Cllr Ann John joined the Planning Committee. The Committee will shortly be considering the planning application for the controversial redevelopment of Willesden Green Library Centre, which includes the demolition of the 1980s library and the Victorian library, loss of open space and the Willesden Bookshop's loss of premises, in exchange for a smaller library and the building of more than 90 luxury flats.
As leader and Executive member, Ann John was a keen supporter of the regeneration scheme.
Inevitably campaigners have seen a possible conflict of interest here as the Committee (rather like the infamous case Jeremy Hunt in the SkyB matter) exercises a statutorily independent duty.
In the Willesden and Brent Times this week Ann John rounded on her critics:
This is a cheap shot from people who just want to have a go at me. I will of course approach any planning application with an open mind and take everything into account and following planning guidelines. Backing the scheme pre-planning is not the same as having a pre-conceived notion about it. I will be looking from a planning point of view only, as will all the planning officers.The penultimate sentence in her statement is clearly a matter of semantics but with far-reaching consequences. The Council's Constitution (Codes and Protocols) LINK indicates that campaigners may have grounds for requesting that Cllr John absent herself from discussion of this particular planning application.
A general principle can be extracted from the guidelines on Scrutiny:
Ann John was a member of the Brent Executive that took the decision top go ahead with the Willesden Green Redevelopment.Prejudicial interests arising in relation to overview and scrutiny committees11.You also have a prejudicial interest in any business before an overview and scrutiny committee of your authority (or of a sub-committee of such a committee) where -(a) that business relates to a decision made (whether implemented or not) or action taken by your authority's executive or another of your authority's committees, sub-committees, joint committees or joint sub-committees; and(b) at the time the decision was made or action was taken, you were a member of the executive, committee, sub committee, joint committee or joint sub- committee mentioned in paragraph (a) and you were present when that decision was made or action was taken
The guidelines for Planning Committee members state:
30. Members of the Planning Committee shall refrain from personal abuse and party political considerations shall play no part in their deliberations. Members of the Planning Committee shall be respectful to the Chair and to each other and to officers and members of the public including applicants, their agents and objectors and shall not bully any person. Members of the Planning Committee should not make up their mind before hearing and considering all relevant information at the meeting and should not declare in advance of the meeting, how they intend to vote on a particular application or other matter
The question for Ann John is, to quote a phrase used in the Codes and Protocols, whether her previous comments are such that 'a member of the public with knowledge of the relevant facts would reasonably regard as so significant that it is likely to prejudice your judgement of the public interest'.
I would argue that campaigners' concerns are not a 'cheap shot' as Ann John claims but a legitimate onjection that should be seriously considered by the Council's legal officers.