And also not a hood idea to be “wined and dined” by your ” independent” solicitors

(Continuation of post below):

“David Cameron is claiming the Conservative Party’s inquiry into the Tory bullying scandal is “independent”:

“There is an independent lawyer from Clifford Chance, who will oversee that process and make sure that it reaches clear conclusions from the evidence that comes through.”

But if Clifford Chance is so independent of the Tories – how come the law firm has been dishing out cash for members of the party’s influential 1922 Committee to party at the prestigious and VERY expensive Marco Pierre White Rooftop Restaurant?

From Lord Ashcroft’s Party Conference Diary:

“How to win the majority we want will be a major theme for Conservative Home’s conference events – not least this evening’s joint party with the 1922 Committee, generously sponsored by Clifford Chance, at the Marco Pierre White Rooftop Restaurant”

So not actually all that independent then…”

The perils of employing your mates

Lord Feldman is the latest person implicated in the bullying scandal and, after the resignation of Grant Shapps (aka Michael Green) there are calls for his resignation.

Another of Dav’s good friends is our MP Hugo Swire, who was at school with him at Eton.

It is probably not a good idea to put friends in positions of power and influence.

… “Feldman rarely gives interviews, has never stood for elected office and is virtually unknown outside Westminster. There is no biographical information about him on the parliament website. …

…2008 Feldman and George Osborne were guests for drinks on a yacht owned by the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, moored off Corfu. Both Feldman and Osborne insisted they had not discussed donations with the Russian, which would have been illegal. Feldman later said he had gone aboard merely because he was “fascinated” to see a boat of that size so close up.

When Feldman indicated before this year’s general election that he wanted to return to the family business, Cameron made him sole chairman of the party, with a seat in cabinet. He is the first Tory chairman to have his own office in 10 Downing Street. So close are the two, the barrister reportedly helped prepare Cameron for his appearance at the Leveson inquiry into press standards, firing likely questions at him.

Described as direct and easygoing, with a “sharp business brain”, Feldman is credited with helping to widen the party’s financial base. However, some believe he is not independently political enough. A party chairman should be able to deliver uncomfortable truths to a prime minister, which critics say he cannot do because he is completely David Cameron’s creation.”

Price of land cannot be used as excuse to cut down on affordable housing

Alas this comes too late for several sites in East Devon, and in any case we have no Local Plan – a state of affairs that is therefore costing us affordeable housing as developers escape their responsibilities.

“The government has confirmed that developers cannot use site purchase price to argue that local affordability requirements would make a housing scheme unviable.

Responding to a London borough’s move to seek a judicial review of a planning inspector’s decision to accept a reduced affordable housing contribution, a letter from the Government Legal Department says it is the Secretary of State’s ‘unambiguous policy position’ that ‘land or site value… should reflect policy requirements’.
In other words, developers should have regard to local affordable housing requirements when agreeing a site purchase price and cannot then turn around and use viability arguments to challenge existing local policy.
The government’s statement was sent to Islington Council after a recent planning appeal decision on the Parkhurst Road ‘Territorial Army’ site.

The inspector had refused planning permission on amenity grounds, but had accepted the developer’s argument that only 14% affordable housing was viable because of factors including the price paid for the land, even though the developer could not demonstrate that it had taken Islington’s affordable housing policies into account when bidding for the site.

Unhappy with the inspector’s decision and the signal it sent on viability negotiations, Islington set out on the first step towards a judicial review by issuing a ‘letter before claim’ to the Secretary of State.
Islington said it received support for its stance from Brent, Hackney, Merton, Southwark and Tower Hamlets as well as a public statement of support from London Mayor Boris Johnson.

In the event, the government said it was not appropriate for Islington to pursue a judicial review in the light of the inspector’s refusal, directing it instead to argue its government-confirmed position on viability in future applications.

“Londoners desperately need more affordable housing, and we need to make sure developers are making a fair contribution. However we, and many other councils across London, are concerned that developers are using the viability process to argue they can’t afford to provide much or any affordable housing because they paid too much for land,” says James Murray, Islington’s executive member for housing.

“We are therefore pleased to have a clear confirmation from the Government’s legal department that the value of land should reflect policy requirements, which of course includes affordable housing.”
Islington says it is making copies of its legal advice, the appeal decision, its letter before claim and the government’s response available.”,saysgovernment.aspx

Devon and Somerset Devolution: done deal by March 2016?

According to this document (page 15) the full bid is going in on 18 December 2015 (always a popular day to bury bad news or controversial planning applications!) and provided all goes smoothly ( as it no doubt will) it will be done and dusted by March 2016:

Er, what is Mark Williams being delegated to do between now and 18 December and now and March 2016?

Pegasuslife: some interesting planning application comments

Wilmslow, on former council office land:

Too large, too high, no affordables:


” … stumbling blocks for councillors included its height – a maximum 20.7m high in the six storey part of the complex – and the lack of privacy for neighbouring occupants.

Councillors were told that a planning policy required a separating distance of 27m between facing upper floor windows, but the nearest facing ones were 19.3m apart.

Also, the scheme’s footprint was 28 per cent greater than existing buildings.

Harpenden resident David Newton told the committee the six-storey high block would be ‘visually intrusive’ and set a dangerous precedent if approved.

Cllr Maxine Crawley said: “What’s there is obviously not nice and needs to be replaced, we all know that.”

She was concerned residents’ parking would spill onto neighbouring roads, as the scheme allowed for 25 parking spaces for 38 units.”

Bristol Civic Society:

The Society regrets that it cannot support the third proposed [Pegasuslife] scheme. The height and mass of three new linked replacement blocks would exceed the height and mass of the buildings proposed in both the earlier schemes. The replacement blocks would increase development, present a large building mass, and stand out strikingly to dominate the townscape. The planning question is the impact of the new buildings on designated heritage assets. The townscape and landscape of Brandon Hill is unique; planning policy recognises them to be heritage assets of high significance. The existing building makes a positive contribution to the landscape.

The Society would strongly support redevelopment within the main hospital building, which could provide a substantial number of mixed sized of apartments within a building of character. Such an attractive development in this highly desirable location would be highly marketable.

In response to a pre-planning application enquiry, Council Officers have advised Pegasus Homes that they are unable to be support the current scheme due to its excessive bulk and massing. Officers do not consider that the scheme relates adequately to the site’s surrounding context. Officers would welcome a scheme that recognises their criticism.”

Pegasuslife smashes statue it promised to save in Hampstead

“A HALLOWED sculpture of a pregnant Virgin Mary is feared smashed to smithereens despite assurances it would be spared from demolition.

Developer PegasusLife said in a statement to the New Journal in June that the “Mary Mother of the Church” sculpture would be preserved at the former Catholic-run Bartrams hostel in Rowland Hill Street, near the Royal Free Hospital.

The South End Green Association (SEGA) had made a formal applica­tion to the company for it to be transported to a countryside home. But on Friday, the 20ft white statue could be seen lying face-down in a pile of bricks and mortar. …”

Plans for Pegasus retirement tower blocks fall through in Sutton Coldfield because PegasusLife is “too busy”

PLANS to build tower block retirement homes on a prime piece of Sutton Coldfield land have fallen through.

Developers PegasusLife confirmed it has put a strip of land in Brassington Avenue and the railway line up for sale as it would not be able to start building work ‘for a number of years’.

Planning permission had been granted for five ‘rotated’ tower blocks with 240 retirement apartments in October last year and would have included a private cinema, indoor swimming pool, fully-equipped gym, a restaurant and café.

But no building works had taken place on the site and a for sale sign was erected this month.

Peter Askey, operations manager at Pegasus Life said: “Unfortunately due to the enormous demand that we have throughout the UK to develop over 37 sites we would not have been able to commence activities in Sutton Coldfield for a number of years and we therefore took the decision, through Savills, to put the site on the market to give other developers the opportunity to take this site forward.”

The Winchester-based firm had purchased 12 sites around the country and with asset manager Oaktree Capital Management had pledged to invest £500 million into the schemes.

But the proposed development has once again stalled just like the proposed £12 million scheme by City Lofts which in 2005 had planning permission for ‘Park Point’, with 295 apartments, a restaurant, three shops, two bars, a health and fitness club and multi-deck car park.

City Lofts went into administration in mid-2008 at the start of the ‘credit crunch’ and property insolvency specialist Allsop had been looking to sell the land to a supermarket chain, with outline planning permission granted by Birmingham City Council in 2012. However there were no takers and PegasusLife bought the land in 2013.

Sutton Trinity councillor David Pears said: “It sounds to me like they haven’t drummed up enough interest in it and people willing to put up the money.

“It’s good news potentially that we are not going to get five high rise apartment blocks on the site.

“But it’s bad news with further uncertainty on what is going to happen with that site. It gives us an opportunity to influence what goes on there and keep it in character with the town centre.

“Perhaps in the meantime the land could be used for parking before Christmas.”

Fellow Sutton Trinity councillor Ewan Mackey described the situation as ‘sad news’. He said: “I was pleased in one sense that something was being done with that land and would bring some money into the town and change that bit of an eyesore. It looks pretty bleak there now and nobody really uses that corner of Sutton.

“But it’s a good opportunity for someone to come in and put for some better plans that are aesthetically pleasing.”

Councillors disconnected from decision- making

This is an old report (December 2014) but raises some current pertinent issues. With the creation of “Greater Exeter”, the “East Devon Growth Point Enterprise Zone” and the with interference of the Local Enterprise Partnership in the devolution process, what now is the role of the back-bench councillor? Or even the councillors on the Cabinet who have not moved up the pecking-order to be involved in these new Quangos?

Is there still a role for councillors who are not in the Golden and Platinum Circles of power? Councillors in the ruling party and other parties who are increasingly isolated from decision-making at just about every level except the parochial (the natural domain of town and parish councillors)?

“A new study suggests there is a growing split among councillors, with backbenchers and cabinet members effectively becoming ‘two tribes’.
... Councillors that exercise executive decision-making powers, or those in waiting to occupy such roles, expressed persistently different views from what we might term “backbench” members, regardless of political persuasion.
‘Party groups are a means whereby any potential divisions were mediated, but the poll raises questions as to whether the party group is up to the task of restraining the institutional drivers of the modernisation agenda.

‘This study shows there is a need to find a way to better recognise the contribution of councillors who may be focused on serving their communities but feel disconnected from decision-making.’