Friday 1 December 2017

Butt attempts to answer questions about his meetings with developers and ex Council leader poses some of his own

Kilburn Times front page last week

Cllr John Warren has received answers to the questions he sent to Cllr Butt, Leader of Brent Council, over Butt's meetings with developers. This is what Butt had to say about the issues raised on Wembley Matters and in the Kilburn Times. Note the claim that the FoI response was erroneous:
I’m sure you’ve already seen Debra Norman’s response to Phillip Grant. Please find a copy attached, just in case.

As suggested therein, if you have a complaint you should contact the borough’s chief legal officer immediately. If that is not the case then I’ll kindly ask for confirmation at your earliest convenience that you do not in fact endorse these baseless accusations. Until then, answers to your questions are as follows:

1. What was the purpose of these three meetings,and in broad terms what was discussed?

•    An error was made in responding to the FOI on which your questions are based. The meetings to which you refer occurred at least a year earlier than reported. Clarification and an apology is in the process of being issued. Nevertheless, those meetings were to discuss much needed inward investment and the building of essential new homes.

2. Why were no minutes of these meetings taken - so as to follow LGA guidance?

•    I have attached the relevant information so you can read for yourself what is recommended for which type of meeting.

3.What meetings have you held with other developers in Brent -particularly Quintain- since 2014?

•    With regard to Quintain, we meet and correspond at a range of levels on a number of issues on a regular basis. More generally, I along with officers, meet and communicate with numerous active and potential developers on a regular basis regarding, as above, inward investment and the building of new homes.

4. Please confirm , for the record, that you have not attempted to influence the votes of any member of the planning committee ?

•    Whether as a member of cabinet, or as a local councillor, joint working, both formal and informal, and dialogue with members of the planning committee is recognised as a legitimate reality of local government life. For the avoidance of doubt I can confirm that I have done just that as both leader of the council and ward councillor.

With regard to the final question, are you suggesting that it’s not a part of our role to comment on, support, or oppose relevant applications? Either way, are you saying that you’ve never sought to influence a planning decision?

I have also asked Debra Norman the chief legal officer to make some additions to the planning code of practice to reflect current guidance and practice in respect of s not on the planning committee which will help clear up any confusion ,  a copy of which is attached.
Muhammed Butt
Former Liberal Democrat and Brent Council leader Paul Lorber has also waded into the issue in a letter sent to Carolyn Downs, Brent Council Chief Executive:
 Dear Ms Downs

I am extremely concerned at the front page story about the unminuted Meetings between the Leader of a Brent Council and a large developer who was in the process of having their Planning application considered.

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

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 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.

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?

I would appreciate a full and early reply hopefully without the need to invoke a Freedom of Information.

Yours sincerely

Paul Lorber


Philip Grant said...

Cllr. Butt’s reply to point 1 of Cllr. Warren’s questions is scarcely credible! He says:
‘An error was made in responding to the FOI on which your questions are based. The meetings to which you refer occurred at least a year earlier than reported.’

Does he expect us to accept that a senior Council officer supplied MISinformation, in a formal response to a Freedom of Information Act request, and therefore not pursue this matter? The facts already publicly available show his attempt to deal with this question is flawed.

The FoI response of 31 October 2017, signed by Thomas Cattermole, Head of Executive and Member Services, says in respect of two meetings:

‘In terms of meetings between councillors and any of the organisations listed the only ones I am able to confirm as having taken place are as follows:

· Wednesday 5 April 2017 10:30-11:30am – Councillor Butt (Leader of the Council) met with representatives from Terrapin Communications and their client R55. This meeting was also attended by Amar Dave (Strategic Director – Environment & Regeneration) and Aktar Choudhury (Operational Director – Regeneration).

· Tuesday 23 May 2017 10:15-11:15am – Councillor Butt (Leader of the Council) and Councillor Tatler (Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Growth, Employment and Skills) met with representatives from Colliers International. This meeting was also attended by Amar Dave (Strategic Director – Environment & Regeneration).

No minutes were produced for either of these meetings.’

The details given about the days and times of these meetings, and the people present at them, must have been given to Mr Cattermole by at least some of the people who attended them, or have been obtained from their diaries. Does Cllr. Butt now expect us to believe that these meetings never took place, or only took place ‘at least a year earlier’?

The details of the third meeting which point 1 of Cllr. Butt’s reply covers are described in the FoI response as:

‘Councillors Butt & Tatler (10 May 2017) – lunch with Terrapin Communications at which R55 were represented.’

The evidence that this meeting did take place in May 2017 (although a DAY earlier, on 9 May) is available in a blog of 5 October 2017 at:

Cllrs Butt and Tatler have both declared the hospitality they received in their “Register of Interests” on Brent Council’s website. After I wrote to Cllr. Butt for further details of which developer clients of Terrapin Communications he had met there, and what had been discussed, he passed my email to Brent’s Chief Legal Officer, who replied to it on 3 October as an FoI request. She confirmed that these councillors and two senior officers, Amar Dave and Aktar Choudhury, had received a three course lunch on 9 May 2017, that they had all declared this hospitality, and that R55 were among the developers also present.

Cllr. Butt is clearly wrong to claim that this meeting with the developers was “an error” in the FoI response of 31 October, or that it took place ‘at least a year earlier than reported.’

Cllr. Butt has been put under pressure by the facts disclosed in the 31 October FoI response from the Council, by the “Wembley Matters” coverage and comments, and the local newspaper front page story about it. He has found himself in a hole, but his reply to Cllr. Warren’s questions could be digging him even deeper into it.


Anonymous said...

It just gets worse and worse doesn't it. Is Cllr Butt now saying that the staff of Brent Council are so incompetent that they are not able to answer a simple FOI request as the original FOI was. In which case he should make all the records available to us to research them and incidently he should also then give the Chief Executive an almighty kick up the backside for allowing this situation to happen (if it actually did) and make her make a public deep apology to us which will duly be accurately recorded and we will want to know how and why it happened. I'm afraid it doesn't make proper sense.
Will Cllr Butt please give us what he know says the actual dates were (and evidence from his diary to show that those were the dates).

Philip Grant said...

Me again! There must be people at the Civic Centre who think I'm just a pain in the **** (choose option a or option b, whichever you prefer).

The final paragraph of Cllr. Butt's reply to Cllr. Warren is also a cause for concern. He says:
'I have also asked Debra Norman the chief legal officer to make some additions to the planning code of practice to reflect current guidance and practice in respect of s not [?] on the planning committee which will help clear up any confusion ....'

The Planning Code of Practice is part of Brent's Constitution. Cllr. Butt appears to be suggesting that HE can, and has, asked Brent's Chief Legal Officer to make some additions to it.

My understanding is that any changes to the Constitution have to be discussed by a Constitutional Working Group, which is chaired by Carolyn Downs, Brent's Chief Executive, with the Council Leader and Leader of the Opposition as members of the Group.

If the Group agrees that changes should be made, those changes are then put to a Full Council meeting by the Chief Legal Officer, for consideration and approval.

If what he has written in that final paragraph is correct, has Cllr. Butt exceeded his powers?


Alison Hopkins said...

It's not perjury, is it. Yet.

Has anyone raised all this with the LGA? Or Rotten Boroughs? Oh, how I miss Gareth Daniel.

Anonymous said...

His answer to question 4 is even worse! He openly admits to seeking to influence the Planning Committee - despite this being categorically against the rules.

The Leader is absolutely forbidden from seeking to influence the quasi-judicial committee because it would be completely impossible for him to make policy points detached from the political context.

The spectre of patronage and influence hangs over every interaction between a Leader and a backbencher. A Leader cannot claim he is simply lobbying a backbencher on a point of policy - the power relationship is such that it puts the backbencher in the unfair position of having to ignore or disagree with their boss. That's why it's strictly forbidden.

This is a widely-established, cross-party principle: it is utterly staggering that Butt is proud to ignore it.

Anonymous said...

So is Butt saying that he indicated to the developers of Minavil House that it was acceptable to ignore the Alperton Development Area height limit and bang up a 26 storey block more than a year before being presented to the planning committee and this makes it acceptable to ignore the height limits? Eh??????? Could he please explain his logic. Come down and explain it to the people of Alperton.....we'll find an old milk crate for you to stand on.

Anonymous said...

our Great Leader thinks he has defused a time bomb - Butt will it blow up in his face???

Philip Grant said...

Dear Alison,

By coincidence, a copy of the text of Gareth Daniel's farewell letter to staff was one of the documents I supplied in evidence to the auditor, in support of my objection to Brent's 2015/16 accounts. [This was on the basis that the 2015 payment objected to had its roots in events from 2012 onwards.] These were my comments on what GD said in it:

'I have highlighted what I believe are some of the key sentences.

• He had ‘agreed with the political leadership to move on’ – indicating that the “problem” which caused his departure was with Cllr. Butt.

• He writes about the progress he had made in “cleaning up” Brent’s ‘dodgy’ reputation, but warns that ‘we must never be complacent’, suggesting that he felt there was a risk that the Council could slip back in this area.

• He emphasises strongly the importance of integrity, saying it ‘is the foundation for good governance and without it everything else is lost,’ a strong hint that integrity (or a lack of it) were at least part of the reason for his departure.'

Food for thought again?


Anonymous said...

Ann John was reported to Ed Miliband for abusing the planning process.
Would Jez Corbyn support Butt?

Alison Hopkins said...

yesterday at 17:42: you are spot on. I was an alternate on the Planning Committee for a short while, regularly attended them for other reasons and obviously saw behind the scenes at pre meetings and also Group discussions on other topics. My experience back then was that the committee was very careful not to be influenced indeed. The chair was Ketan Sheth, who was dispassionate and objective, as were other members. Much as I don't care what Powney did as a cabinet member, he was punctilious in terms of staying objective and abiding by the rules, as were the other members.

I cannot think of one single instance when Paul Lorber ever tried to influence planning decisions BY THE COMMITTEE in my time, and would be utterly amazed if he ever had. We have, of course, both lobbied and represented to committee, but always in accordance with the rules.

Good point about the constitution, Phillip, but all Mo has to do is get them whipped to vote. Gareth had and has high integrity. An old fashioned public servant. I couldn't make his leaving do, but I gather the speech was interesting.

Philip Grant said...

Dear Alison,

Thank you for this clear explanation, from your own personal experience as a councillor.

I only had dealings with Gareth Daniel once, in the Spring of 2012, when I found him fair and reasonable (most unlike his "interim" successor). I like your description of him, "an old fashioned public servant", which is how I like to see myself, even though now retired!


Alison Hopkins said...

Philip, my first job was as a civil servant, back in the dim and distant. I think those of us who joined back then, or who managed to stay non politicised, still have that public service ethos.

I've not found any of Gareth's successors to be in his mould, to be honest. I'm sure he and Paul disagreed at times, but I think it was always respectful and as equals.

Philip Grant said...


See my follow-up email on this to Brent's Chief Executive, Carolyn Downs, to find out whether the original FoI response was "True or False?" at: