By News Reporters
Mayor of London Boris Johnson has been accused of a conflict of interest over his ruling in September 2011 to overturn a local planning decision.
Camden Council had refused planning permission for Derwent London to redevelop the Saatchi Block at 80 Charlotte Street, Fitzrovia, in May 2011 after objections from individual residents, community groups and local councillors who argued that the plans amounted to an over-development, lacked affordable housing and provided insufficient public open space.
Today the Daily Mirror reports with an “exclusive” investigation into the “£125million building project linked to scandal-hit lobbyists Bell Pottinger.”
The story centres on Boris Johnson’s appointment of Sir Edward Lister as his Deputy Mayor, with responsibility for planning.
“Sir Edward Lister was appointed Chief of Staff and Deputy Mayor for Planning by the Mayor of London in May 2011. He advises the Mayor on strategic planning applications and has oversight of the London Plan and forthcoming Community Infrastructure Levy,” says Lister’s biography on the GLA website.
According to The Mirror: “Sir Edward’s son Matthew works for Bell Pottinger, which acts for the real estate firm behind the Charlotte Street redevelopment – Derwent London.”
The Mirror stresses: “There is no suggestion that Matthew was involved in the decision and sources close to Sir Edward stressed that his son does not handle planning at the public affairs firm. But critics said there was a “massive” potential conflict of interest and demanded to know whether the Mayor knew of it when he sanctioned the development.”
Sir Edward Lister had made a site visit to the Saatchi Block, sat in the hearing; and had later praised Boris Johnson over the Saatchi block decision in an interview on BBC London.
In an editorial the Mirror says: “BORIS Johnson, the Tory Mayor of London, must reveal exactly what he knew about a controversial £125million property deal in the capital.”
Full story on Daily Mirror website: Boris Johnson engulfed in a conflict of interests row after approving controversial development
Nice one, News reporter.
The web site for Bell Pottinger Public Affairs inadvertently concedes the whole sordid problem.
“We deliver value for clients by maximising the impact of their communications with government, regulators and other audiences, at the same time as fostering a productive dialogue between government and business.
We have in-depth knowledge of politics and regulation, underpinned by an understanding of the media. Our team of senior communications consultants and public affairs specialists have first hand experience of government, the media and business.”
Public consultation, input and participation is reduced to the passivity and dismissal of being an “audience” in the subversion and re-division of any democratic component to betwixt government and business.
The Boris-Derwent dance always stank: was it the pretence of a local consultation which most locals did not know about? Was it the oh-so-sincere reassurances, or was it the spin-guru’d pre-emption, by Derwent’s Simon Silver that Fitzrovia’s Character would not be swept away? Was it the centralised calling-in by Czar Boris despite the rejection by Camden Council on sound policy grounds? Was it the way that Boris spun the interpretation of the facts to support what clearly became evident during the course of the Mayoral Office public hearing that the decision to institute the Saatchi block proposal, though not explicit, had already been made behind the scenes? Was it the hypocrisy of the promotion of “localism” while all of this was going on? – what effect would this have on future consultations if any local considerations could be centrally vetoed. Who would have taken Boris for a Stalinist?
Does Boris Johnson not realise how damaging this is? He is elected to represent the interests of the electorate, the public interest against these very type of cosy inside relationships. Boris’s Planning Deputy is an ex-colleague of the boss of the Planning Deputy’s son who works for the company who in turn does the PR for the developer Boris decides, out of the blue, needs his mayoral (New Labour derived) powers. Are Bell Pottinger Public Affairs employed to “maximise impact” or is their value in getting the desired result? Hello daddy!
In today’s Evening Standard is an article about how only three of the Candy’s One Hyde Park’s 85 luxury apartments are occupied by permanent residents. That building “contributes nothing to local business or London’s economy” or, we might add, community. Fitzrovia dodged that bullet when the Candy’s funding for the development of the old Middlesex Hospital site dried-up (not before they destroyed that wonderful monument to Community philanthropy and long-term public investment) but the pressure to build glass apartment complexes and other corporate interests for the super wealthy involving the kind of deals that Bell Pottinger espouse as “value” is all too real. What kind of ghost community do you get if the majority of new developments then go to people whose main homes are elsewhere?
Fitzrovia is a clear and present, vibrant community and that community has a “value” which exists beyond the terms of quantification of companies like Bell Pottinger Public Affairs.
Well done to The Mirror and to Fitzrovia News, and the Fourth Estate. Let’s see if the London Assembly can show that they have a purpose.
Perhaps an intrepid investigator could also look into this shady Derwent scheme. It smells as well:
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