Tuesday 1 May 2018

Duffy pursues Cabinet members' 'Dinners with Developers' controversy

The Chesterfield House (AKA Twin Towers) development now underway
In an email to Debra Norman, Brent Council's Director of Legal and HR Services, Cllr John Duffy, standing as an independent in Kilburn ward, has sought further information on councillors' meetings with developers and their public relations advisers.

Duffy's email sets out his concerns and questions:

Dear Ms Norman ,

I wish to raise the issue of meetings between Cabinet Members and developers. 

I asked you in email on the 3/10/2017  "if any meeting with Terrapin involving planning officers, regeneration officers and Councillors was declared during the application to redeveloped Chesterfield House.” you replied" No meetings with Terrapin have been declared by officers or councillors other than the meeting of 9.5.17." 

Later you confirmed in an email on the 23/03/2018 saying  "I confirm that there was a meeting between Terrapin Communications and their client RSS which took place on Wednesday 5th April 2016  between 10-30-11-30 am. The meeting took place in the leaders officers in the Civic Centre and was attended for the council by Cllr Butt and Cllr Aktar Choudhury. (Operational Director Regeneration)".You also stated in your email that " the diaries of the council attendees have been cross referenced to confirm the meeting took place on the date .

As I have said above I asked you in my email on the 3/10/2017  "if any meeting with Terrapin involving planning officers, regeneration officers and Councillors was declared during the application to redeveloped Chesterfield House. you replied" No meetings with Terrapin have been declared by officers or councillors other than the meeting of 9.5.17." The correct answer should have been yes  a meeting took place on Wednesday 5th April 2016 in the Civic Centre with Terrapin .The 5th April 2016 was the morning the application for the redeveloped of Chesterfield House was to be heard by the planning committee.

Chesterfield House was a controversial planning application because of the lack of amenity space in the development and the lack of affordable housing, falling well below the target set by the Mayor of London. 

The controversial plan was passed at the committee by 4 votes to 2 with 2 abstentions with Cllr Marquis, Cllr Maurice  voting against and Cllrs Agha, Chroudhary, Colaccicco and Mahmood voting for the development and Cllr Patel and Ezeajughi abstaining.

Later Terrapin Communications placed an ad on their web-site saying 

Residents in Brent are set to benefit from an exciting new community centre along with other public improvements thanks to a new development in the Borough. Terrapin Communications helped Hub Group secure planning consent for the scheme.  Designed by Macerator Lavington, it will also include 239 new residential units in two new buildings, one twenty six storeys, the other twenty one storeys. 

Ms Norman , you may think this is an issue about Terrapin Communications and how they operate. Well it is not.

I am concerned about the accuracy of the information I was provided with by officers. My concerns are three fold did any member of the Cabinet speak to members of the planning committee to express support for the application. I hope you will clarify if that took place by asking members of the committee.

However my main concerns is not about councillors, it’s about how officers are setting -up meeting between developers and Cabinet members. These senior officers could not answer a simple members inquiry about a meeting, to the point they forgot the day and the  year the meeting took place. When all they had to do was check their diaries . 

My third concern is the confusion about who attended the meeting , as along with Cllr Warren I wrote to Terrapin about the meeting which took place on April 5th 2016 and they replied they had no meetings with officers or Cllr Butt on that date or any other date.

Cllr Butt and Cllr Tatler (Lead Member for Regeneration) also stated they received  hospitality from Terrapin.  09/05/17 - Three course meal with developers from the construction industry. Estimated value between £30-40. Received from Terrapin Communications, London.

However Terrapin denied they paid for any hospitality for Cllr Butt or Cllr Tatler on that date or any other date.

Ms Norman , I am sure you appreciate when you are dealing with millions of  pounds worth of investment, it’s important that Councillors are told by officers, who they are meeting, who is paying for  the hospitality and [ensure they] are not taken advantage or misled. These meetings cannot be dismissed by the legal department as informal and therefore need no agendas or minutes or details of who attended.

Therefore I would ask you to undertake a full inquiry ASAP to get to the truth of who met who and why. Also why Cllr Butt and Cllr Tatler's entered the wrong who was paying for their lunch.

I would also ask that the inquiry is not undertake by internal audit, as I have no faith in their Independents.


John Duffy

 Debra Norman responded regarding the April 5th meeting and guideliens on meetings with developers:
The meeting was not minuted as it was informal and so the discussion did not need to be recorded for the purposes of any formal processes.

You have asked whether there is a Code of Practice in respect of meetings with developers.

The Planning Code of Practice has for a long time contained provisions which cover approaches from developers and others to planning committee members.   In January of this year a section was added to the Code (at the request of the Leader) to cover meetings with developers.  It was not in place at the time of the meeting to which you refer.  The new section states as follows:

Discussions between members and meetings with developers or their representatives

28      Provided Members comply with the practical requirements of this code and the requirements of the Members’ Code of Conduct, there is no legal rule against Members, whether of the same group or not, discussing strategic planning issues, general policy issues or even future decisions.

29      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 need to ensure that when making planning decisions, they make up their own mind and on the planning merits.

30      Relevant Members of the Cabinet are entitled to meet with developers or their representatives and other relevant stakeholders as part of their role to promote Brent and the regeneration, development and other commercial opportunities available in the borough. In doing so, Members of the Cabinet must always act in the best interests of the council and ultimately in the public interest, and in accordance with the high standards of conduct expected of Members, to ensure that the integrity of the planning process is not undermined and the council is not brought into disrepute.

31      Reasonable care and judgement should be exercised in relation to such meetings, taking into account the purpose of the meeting, the nature of the issues to be discussed and the timing. In appropriate circumstances, exercising proper judgement may include ensuring a record is kept of the meeting. Cabinet Members should make sure it is understood that their participation in marketing events or commercial discussions is separate from the administrative and regulatory roles of Members of the Planning Committee.

32      Although Members of the Cabinet are entitled to express support or opposition to  development proposed in the borough, they cannot use their position as a Member improperly to confer on or secure for any person, an advantage or disadvantage.

33      As pre-application discussions or discussions about undecided applications require particular care, the following additional rules apply. An officer must make the arrangements for such meetings, attend and write notes. The meeting arrangements must include agreeing an agenda in advance

Terrapin Communications' response to John Duffy's questions:

1.  How did you “ help?” [HUB group secure planning consent]

Terrapin Communications assisted with the community consultation for this scheme. 

2.What meetings were held with Brent Councillors and Officers.... who attended and when ?

Terrapin Communications requested one meeting with Cllr Sam Stopp. Cllr Stopp attended a meeting on 29 May 2015.  

3.What, in broad terms,was discussed at these meetings?

The benefits of the scheme for local people and the applicants’ commitment to consultation were discussed with Cllr Stopp. This is set out in the Statement of Community Involvement submitted as part of the planning application. 

4. What hospitality did you offer to Brent Councillors / Officers. - names,dates,details please?


5. What lobbying did Terrapin do in respect of the planning committee members making the Chesterfield House decision ?


6. Would you please confirm that ,at all times,Terrapin acted in line with the code of conduct laid down by your regulatory body/ bodies - please confirm which relevant bodies are applicable.


1 comment:

Martin Francis said...

Comment from Philip Grant: It is not so much "dinners with developers" that is the issue here.

It has been confirmed that an hour-long meeting took place on the morning of 6 April 2016 IN THE LEADER'S OFFICE between Cllr. Butt, Aktar Choudhury (Operational Director, Regeneration), Terrapin Communications and their client R55.

Debra Norman has told John Duffy: 'There are no minutes of this meeting, but I am informed by Aktar that the meeting was informal and the developers spoke about their Minavel House site in general and the good progress they were making in bringing forward their proposals.'

She later added, in response to a further question from Cllr. Duffy: 'You have asked below whether it is usual that there were no minutes were taken. Yes, given the nature of the meeting it is usual that no minutes were taken.' But as has been set out previously on "Wembley Matters", there has been specific guidance in place from the Local Government Association for the past few years that a Council Officer should attend any such meeting with a developer, and make a written minute of the discussions, a document which the public should be able to read.

Terrapin Communications was also representing Hub, and although Hub were not present at that meeting, it would have been possible for Terrapin to mention something encouraging support for Hub's Chesterfield House planning application, which (by coincidence?) was being considered by Brent's Planning Committee that evening. In the absence of minutes prepared by a Council Officer, there is no evidence as to whether, or not, that matter was raised.

An FoI last autumn revealed that Terrapin Communications also had a meeting with Cllr. Butt on the eve of the Minavil House planning application being approved by Brent's Planning Committee (another coincidence?). Again, no minutes were taken by a Council Officer of those discussions.

The issue here is whether Cllr. Butt may have interfered with Brent's proper Planning process, which he is specifically not allowed to do.

There is a "hearsay" allegation (from an unnamed Brent Labour backbencher - NOT Cllr. Duffy) that several Labour councillors on the Planning Committee have admitted privately that Cllr. Butt had instructed them how to vote on particular planning applications. Ms Norman was not able to take any action over these allegations, as none of the Labour councillors allegedly involved was willing to go "on record" over this.

Nothing has (yet) been proved against Cllr. Butt, but one of the requirements under the Code of Conduct for people in public life (including councillors and Council Officers) is that you should not put yourself in situations where your integrity could be called into question.

By holding meetings with developers or their representatives (such as Terrapin Communications), close to major planning decisions with which they are involved, and not ensuring that proper minutes are kept of those discussions, Cllr. Butt HAS put himself in a position where his integrity could be called into question.