Friday 8 December 2017

Brent to amend Code of Conduct to cover councillors' meetings with developers

Readers will remember that ex Brent Council leader Paul Lorber raised some questions of his own, addressed to Brent CEO Carolyn Downs, about the meetinsgh with planners and the Alperton Masterplan.

The Q&A is below. Lorber's questions in italics. Some of Downs' answer cover several of the questions. Paul Lorber has responded to Downs' answers at the foot of this post.

Are you aware of these meetings, did you attend and did you authorise them?

 We are a Borough that is in need of homes for our residents and it is positive news that we have public, charitable and private sector partners that wish to work with us. To enable the building of these homes requires positive partnership working which means we have to engage with the private sector and have meaningful dialogue. In every authority that wishes to build homes there will be meetings with the private sector and the appropriate officers to attend including Chief Executives.

As the Chief Executive I do where appropriate attend meetings to ensure that I provide the required guidance. At the meetings there is discussion on the scheme and the appropriateness of it for the whole Borough. The meetings do discuss the nature of the scheme, they do not discuss financial matters as these are discussed separately and appropriately with Planning Officers.

The meetings do not involve members from the Planning Committee. They will involve the appropriate colleagues from Planning to ensure that we receive the professional advice when required. These meetings take place to ensure that I and all officers are working in the best interests of Brent residents.

You will be aware that the Alperton Masterplan was subject to public consultation, including with residents, and that the height of the buildings in the area were restricted "to up to 17 storeys".

When did the Council change the Masterplan or its policies to breach this commitment to local people and allow buildings of 26 storeys?

What exactly was the purpose of the meetings with the developer, who initiated them and was the height of the buildings they propose and any financial contributions discussed?

 You raised the matter of the masterplan.  The 2011 Alperton Masterplan SPD has not been changed. Whilst a material consideration in the consideration of planning applications in the area, it is now quite out of date and circumstances have changed, including the designation of the area as a Housing Zone. The committee considered the SPD during their assessment of the application, along with other policies, including the proximity to the station and high PTAL rating, and the significant proportion of affordable housing being provided in the scheme.

You will be aware that Brent Council subscribes to Open Government and that involvement of the Leader of the Council with Developers at a time when their Planning application, in breach of the Masterplan height limits, is being considered is of justified public interest.

What discussions about this Developers Plans took place in the regular Leadership/Officer meetings and how did any of these influence the planning process? Did any officers from Planning or any Councillors on the Planning Committee attend any of these meetings?

Please set out the protocol dealing with the issue of the Leader or any Councillors meeting Developers at a time when their major Planning applications are under consideration.

You asked about the protocol dealing with the Leader or any Councillors meeting with Developers.  The Planning Code of Conduct can be found in part 5 of the Council’s constitution, the latest version of which is on our website at  In addition other guidance has been given to members from time to time about this.  We are in the process of reviewing the Planning Code of Conduct, including adding a section specifically dealing with meeting with developers involving councillors who are not members of the Planning Committee. 

There is now a new Planning application for a 28 storey building on the site of the Boat pub in Bridgewater Road/Ealing Road. Can you advise what meetings involving Councillors or Officers took place discussing a proposal over 50% taller than the 17 storey Alperton Master Plan limit?

Additionally, you also asked whether I had attended, authorised or been aware of meetings with R55. I did not attend any. I was aware of the lunch. I do not need to authorise such meetings.  As long as the relevant officers are present, which they were, I would be comfortable for such meetings to proceed.

Paul Lorber's response:

Dear Ms Downs

Thank you for your reply.

I note your view about the need for positive engagement with Developers. They of course have their interests at heart and those of their investors - often based in offshore tax havens.

It is also a fact that getting planning permission for a 26 storey block is substantially more profitable than a 17 storey block. In fact the extra 9 storeys add a disproportionate amount to those profits.

The Alperton Masterplan which is still available via the Brent Council website makes a great deal from the fact that local people were consulted and contributed to the plan. It specifically highlights the fact that the maximum height of the buildings in the area would be up to 17 storeys.

Unless I have missed it there is no reference to residents being either consulted or informed that despite their past involvement it is now regarded as "out of date" and that Officers or Councillors on an obscure Committee decided that the 17 storey limit can be ditched and replaced by a 'Developers' free for all. What is the point of involving local people in helping to develop Planning. Policies in their area when an arbitrary decision to call them "out of date" enables key aspects, such as height of buildings, which residents regard as important, are over ridden in this way.

Is so called consultation in public participation in developing local plans in Brent just an empty gesture and a sham? 

Proximity to a station does not justify extra 9 storeys on top of an already very tall building. The residents who live in the Ealing Road area already endure problems including traffic jams and displacement parking from buildings with inadequate car parking spaces.

It is clear from the current Brent approach that the views of local residents count for very little. Perhaps the right and honest approach to deal with an "out of date" Alperton Masterplan would have been to update it with a proper involvement of local residents. 

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