Monday 13 November 2017

Alleged political interference in Brent's planning decision making process brought to attention of Monitoring Officer

 From Philip Grant (first published as a comment on Andrew Linnie's psot)

Further to Andrew Linnie's post LINK, this is the text of an email I have 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:

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.


Anonymous said...

I Love the "Back the Bid campaign for Brent's London Borough of Culture 2020".
I fear the only campaign we will be winning is that of top borough for championing the culture of lies, deceit, and downright dishonesty, and contempt for the Residents. This is the only culture we are cultivating in this Borough to great effect, we must surely be in the top 3, along side Tower Hamlets and Haringay.

Anonymous said...

Is this not a criminal matter?

Sandro said...

The only campaign that Brent Council will win is the 'Undisputed Champion Of High Rise Buildings'!

Philip Grant said...

Dear Anonymous at 14:37,

At present, there are only allegations of wrongdoing, which I have passed on to Brent's Chief Legal Officer / Monitoring Officer. If true, they would represent breaches of Codes of Conduct, which could be dealt with internally through the Council's Standards Committee.

However, if in following up these allegations, Ms Norman was to find evidence of any potentially criminal activity, such as bribery or other corrupt practices involved with planning decisions, or "misconduct in public office", she would be duty bound to report the matter to the police.


Anonymous said...

"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." Very serious allegation. Lutfur Rahman style politics?

Anonymous said...

Lock them up for Christmas Philip.

Anonymous said...

Better still make them clear up the blocked severs from inside the sewer.... no protective gas masks or similar equipment just a mini pick and a little battery powered mini-drill.
If he wants to act like a sewer rat or a piece of shit that where he should be ..... down a sewer!!

Philip Grant said...


Debra Norman replied to my email on 15 November, although I was too busy until this morning, with other (local history) interests, to read her response fully.

Her reply is a well-reasoned one, and I have written to her saying:

'Please let me know whether you have any objection to me adding the full, unedited text of your email, as a comment in reply to this blog. One of the aims of "Wembley Matters" is to promote debate on issues of local interest, and adding Brent's official view would help to provide some balance.'

I hope to be able to share Ms Norman's email with you soon.


Philip Grant said...


'Dear Mr Grant

I am responding to your email below of 12 November 2017.

Allegations of breaches of the Members’ Code of Conduct (the code) are dealt with in accordance with the Council’s formal complaints procedure and should be submitted using the Council’s standard form – both of which are available on the Council’s website (see here:

To date, I have not been contacted directly by anyone to complain about the matters set out in your email.

As therefore I can comment in general terms only, I hope the following is helpful.

In principle and for practical reasons, allegations of breaches of the code which are non-specific and don’t contain any direct evidence are likely to fail to disclose a potential breach of the code. For example, such allegations are incapable of being investigated in any meaningful or reliable way and/or are not susceptible to proof.

Of course, all Members, and especially senior Members, can reasonably expect to be held to account for their conduct and for complaints alleging serious misconduct to be dealt with properly, not only in accordance with established standards of good administration but also natural justice.

It is therefore regrettable when allegations of serious wrong-doing which are not specific and substantiated are made against individual councillors and made publicly available for repetition and comment by others. Allegations of this nature can cause serious reputational damage to the individual councillor concerned without him/her being able to properly defend themselves or clear their name, risk undermining public trust and confidence in local government and could even prejudice the Council’s ability to properly investigate or determine allegations of serious wrong-doing.

Continued below:

Philip Grant said...


'Public trust and confidence in all areas of Council decision making is important, with planning being a high profile example. It is for this reason that Planning Committee Members receive training on how to undertake their decision making role. In addition, all Members from time to time are reminded that planning decisions should always be taken in the public interest and on proper planning grounds (often referred to as material planning considerations, for example, planning policy and guidance) and in accordance with the general obligations set out in the code and the principles of conduct which underpin the code.

Members are made aware of the need to comply with the rules of natural justice i.e. the duty to act fairly; the duty to keep an open mind (i.e. the rule against pre-determination); and the rule against bias (both actual bias which may arise as a result of a direct (usually financial) interest in the matter to be decided and the appearance of bias i.e. the real possibility of bias arising from relationships or the decision maker’s conduct or actions or strongly worded views).

Members are also made aware of the standards of conduct expected of all Members whenever they conduct the business of the Council or their office and whenever they act, claim to act, or give the impression they are acting as a councillor. These include not using or attempting to use their position as a Member improperly to confer on or secure for themselves or any other person, an advantage or disadvantage, giving reasons for decisions and not bringing their office or the Council into disrepute.

The Council’s Planning Code of Practice supplements and reinforces these requirements. Members of the Planning Committee are aware that if they are approached by any persons or groups regarding an application they intend to decide, they are required to inform the Monitoring Officer.

Members of the Planning Committee know that they are required to make up their own mind. Voting blindly in support of party policy or the party whip is clearly not allowed. This includes not accepting a direction from their political group as to how they should vote. Nor should individual Members exert undue or inappropriate pressure on Members of the Planning Committee on how they should vote.

However, Members are not required to have a blank mind. The law permits Members to be pre-disposed to a certain point of view which they can give weight to but they must consider and give weight to all material planning considerations, other views and arguments, and all the evidence. In other words, they must be prepared to change their view if persuaded they should. In drawing a key distinction between pre-determination (which is unlawful) and predisposition (which is recognised as a reality of political and local government life), the courts have sensibly struck a pragmatic balance.

Provided Members comply with these rules, there is no legal rule against Members, whether of the same group or not, discussing strategic planning issues, general policy issues or, provided these rules are not breached, even a future decision.

Similarly, joint working, both formal and informal, and dialogue between Members of the Planning Committee and Members of the Cabinet is recognised as a legitimate reality of local government life. Members of the Planning Committee simply need to ensure that when making planning decisions, they make up their own mind and on the planning merits.

Best wishes


[Debra Norman, Chief Legal Officer, Resources Department, Brent Council]

Philip Grant said...


This was meant to be the "introduction" to the email from Debra Norman, published in two parts above (because it was too long for one comment)!

Further to my "update" comment of 17 November above, I have now heard back from Debra Norman. She has said that 'it would not be appropriate for me to become involved in “public debates on issues of local interest”,' as 'I have to remain impartial and avoid any appearance of bias or pre-determination.'

I respect her position on this, but she also said: 'However, as there is no legal rule prohibiting the publication of my previous email to you, it is a matter for you whether you publish it.'

As her reply of 15 November was well-reasoned, and will help to contribute to a balanced discussion of the issues raised, I have told her that I will "publish" the full text of it on "Wembley Matters".


Philip Grant said...


This reply has now been posted as a separate blog (which may make it easier to add a comment on, if you wish to) at: