Tuesday 1 May 2018

Has Cllr Butt put himself in situations where his integrity can be questioned?

Philip Grant submitted a comment on the 'Dinners with Developers' story posted earlier but I think the comment deserves a post in its own right:

 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.

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