Oh, what a surprise! Another poor, poor developer at Hayne Lane, Honiton

One presumes that Councillors Diviani and Twiss are aware of this, having declared hospitality from Baker Estates in September and December last year:

https://eastdevonwatch.org/2018/02/22/eddc-councillor-freebies/

PRESS RELEASE

“Developer requests reduced affordable housing provision on residential development at Hayne Lane, Honiton

Local planning authority will consider offer from Baker Estates to provide improved mix of houses at Hayne Lane development plus £0.5m contribution towards off-site affordable housing

East Devon’s Local Planning Authority (LPA) has received a request from Baker Estates to amend the amount of affordable housing that they provide on their development of 300 houses on land to the west of Hayne Lane in Honiton.

The request will be considered after 12 noon at the next meeting of East Devon District Council’s Development Management Committee on 6 March 2018, which is being held at Exmouth Town Hall

East Devon planning officers are recommending that the request be agreed.

As present Baker Estates is required to provide 40% of the dwellings (120 units) as affordable housing in accordance with the original planning permission granted on the site in 2015.

However, the developer is now asking the LPA to agree to reduce the affordable housing provision to 30% or 90 dwellings, whichever is the greater. This change would also affect the amount of financial contribution being secured for off-site open space, which would be reduced from £488,000 to £210,000.

In exchange Baker Estates is offering an improved mix of houses on the site and £500,000 financial contribution towards off-site provision of affordable housing.

The applicants have submitted this request as they believe that current planning policy would support a reduction in the provision of affordable housing down to 25%, if a new planning application were to be submitted. While they are offering less than the 40% affordable housing provision currently secured, they are offering more than the 25% they believe they would be required to provide if a new planning application were submitted.

The planning officers’ report advises that while there is a chance that Baker Estates may not be able to successfully argue 25% affordable housing provision as part of a new planning application, there is an equal chance that such a proposal would be acceptable should an application be submitted and determined on appeal by the Planning Inspectorate.

In addition, the planning officers believe that the viability of the site is such that it is unlikely that the council would be able to secure the current 40% provision into the future, and that agreeing to the request will negate the need for a lengthy and costly planning appeal, enabling the development to proceed as quickly as possible while providing 90, much needed, affordable housing units.

The report can be viewed on the council’s website:

http://eastdevon.gov.uk/council-and-democracy/committees-and-meetings/development-management-committee/development-management-committee-agendas/

Cllr Mike Howe, Chairman of East Devon’s Development Management Committee, said:

“It is important that this sort of decision is made in the public view, so that everyone can understand the issues at stake. It is about striking a fair balance, while ensuring that the right amount of affordable housing provision is made.”

“Persimmon slashes boss’s bonus … to just £75m”

Owl says: well the cut is just chicken-feed to these people – and what bets on Persimmon improving other packages such as expenses, stock options and pension payments in future?

“Persimmon is reducing bonus payouts to three top executives by £51m, including a £25m cut for its chief executive, after the UK’s second largest housebuilder was strongly criticised over its huge payout plans.

The FTSE 100 firm said a bonus of £100m for its chief executive, Jeff Fairburn, would be cut to £75m under the company’s long-term incentive bonus plan.

Finance director Mike Killoran will receive £24m less than the £78m he was originally due, and managing director Dave Jenkinson will see his bonus cut by £2m to £38m. …”

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/feb/23/persimmon-slashes-bosss-bonus-to-just-75m

Carillion auditors paid £40m to provide apparently “false reassurance to investors” says Parliamentary Committee

The auditors rely on calling Carillion’s dicey contracts “optimistic”!!!

“The £40 million that KPMG and Deloitte were paid as the external and internal auditors of Carillion respectively has been described as a “colossal waste of money” by MPs.

At a testy hearing of the work and pensions and business joint select committee, the reputations of audit partners at the two international accountancy firms were shredded as incredulous MPs wondered why they had not dug deeper when alarm bells seemed to be ringing around the construction contractor.

MPs heard evidence from Michelle Hinchliffe, head of audit at KPMG, Peter Meehan, the KPMG partner who audited Carillion, and Michael Jones, who led Deloitte’s internal audit service at the contractor. KPMG was paid £29 million over 19 years by Carillion, and Deloitte £11 million over an unknown period. Rachel Reeves, co-chairwoman of the committee, said: “These audits appear to be a colossal waste of time and money, fit only to provide false assurance to investors, workers and the public.”

Ms Reeves criticised Mr Meehan and Mr Jones after their respective admissions that Mr Meehan had failed to visit at-risk Carillion projects and Deloitte had missed quarterly meetings with the Carillion board’s audit committee.

“Carillion staff and investors could see the problems at the company but those responsible — auditors, regulators, and, ultimately, the directors — did nothing to stop Carillion being driven off a cliff,” she said.

Mr Meehan told MPs that for the 2014 and 2015 audits he had visited the construction project in Qatar that the former chief executive Richard Howson blamed for Carillion’s collapse. Mr Meehan did not make any subsequent visits despite knowing of the importance of the contract. Carillion claimed that it was left with £200 million of unpaid bills in Qatar. Mr Meehan repeatedly stated that despite Mr Howson’s assertions, the Qatar contract had only become a serious issue in the months after the 2016 accounts were signed off in March last year and leading up to the major profit warning of last July, which laid bare the crisis at Carillion. The auditor conceded that Qatar had been flagged as an “amber warning” at a meeting in the February before the sign-off of those accounts.

On another contract, the £350 million construction of the Royal Liverpool Hospital, Mr Meehan admitted that although he had been on previous fact-finding site visits, he had not returned despite internal revelations of major on-site issues in November 2016. He finally made a visit to the hospital last month, four days before Carillion went bust. He contested claims that Carillion’s accounting had become aggressive but said that he had told Carillion board directors that their accounting on some of the “riskier contracts” had become “optimistic”. His concerns were overruled. Despite this, he said he remained happy to sign off the accounts.

Mr Meehan said he had become aware of the enormity of the issues in Qatar in May last year, at which point “we knew a writedown was coming”.

That writedown and those on Royal Liverpool, the Midland Metropolitan in Birmingham and the £700 million Aberdeen bypass were taken on July 10, at which point Mr Howson was removed from his post. Mr Meehan said a review of contracts at that point found that in previous internal reviews, managers had been more pessimistic about the likely outcome for the contracts than the position that was reported.

The auditor said confusion was such in the Carillion boardroom that on the night before the July profit warning, directors were debating whether the writedown should be £695 million or £845 million.”

Source: The Times (pay wall)

“Wine and dine democracy is now on trial – and about time”

There wasn’t a paragraph in this article that could be edited out – truly we are in The Swamp:

“Each time a US gunman goes berserk, the British media erupts in fury at the money the gun lobby can devote to its lethal interest. To be sure, big time lobbying is the occupational disease of American politics. In the US, it can have murderous consequences. Still, on matters of principle, Britons would do well to watch their hypocrisy.

The sums spent by property companies on lobbying Westminster city council’s planning committee – revealed in Tuesday’s Guardian – may be dwarfed by those spent across the Atlantic. But the hospitality showered on the committee’s chairman for 16 years, the amiable Robert Davis, was breathtaking. Five-hundred freebies, including 10 foreign trips, in just three years. At least 150 of these were from a who’s who list of property industry figures. Even Harvey Weinstein is on the list. Entertaining Davis was clearly a Westminster cottage industry. He can hardly have had time to down one glass of champagne before raising another.

Everywhere money is at stake, those regulating it will be open to temptation
Meanwhile in the planning committee, the London Evening Standard’s Jim Armitage – there as a local resident objecting to a planning application – watched planning approvals get ticked off mechanically. He noted that not a single objection was upheld. Members “looked at the ceiling, buffed their nails and scratched their noses” as each was nodded through.

Westminster council asserted this week that all hospitality was received during “meetings”, and the idea that any of its councillors “could be bought by the property lobby was demonstrably untrue”. The meetings apparently took place at Wimbledon, at a performance of the musical Hamilton, and in the south of France. There is nothing wrong in this, provided gifts and hospitality are declared. But this assumes that what is declared cannot be considered, under the 2010 Bribery Act, a “financial or other advantage” offered or accepted to secure “improper performance”. Transparency is not enough.

Davis’s most extraordinary case was that of the late Irvine Sellar’s 72-storey “Paddington Pole”. This required the demolition of an Edwardian baroque sorting office and the erection of a gigantic tower, within the boundary of a conservation area and towering over Brunel’s Paddington station. Proposed in 2016, it breached every conceivable principle of good planning, but Sellar entertained Davis and apparently secured his approval for the pole Davis later described as a potential masterpiece. Sellar added seven more storeys to his plans. A public outcry led eventually to plans for the pole being withdrawn, but only to be replaced by a proposal for a bigger in volume but lower glass box. This was waved through the planning committee against all local opposition after Davis had publicly hailed it as a “game-changer”.

What is highly questionable is what happened next. Protesters pleaded for a meeting with the council but were ignored. Despite the obvious unsuitability of a vast box in a conservation area, Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, declined to intervene. That decision was followed by a similar refusal by the planning minister, Sajid Javid, who declined to give his reasons for doing so. This is most unusual for such a controversial project. The Shard, also developed by Sellar, was, in contrast, subject to a lengthy public inquiry. Protesters are trying to take Javid’s refusal to explain why he declined to intervene to the court of appeal.

British planning is a mess. It is awash with political donations and lavish lobbying as the construction industry wrestles to capitalise on the Conservatives’ “let-rip approach” to urban and rural development. Before the 2010 election, the Conservative Property Forum is recorded as donating £500,000 to the party.

The Cameron government duly dropped proposals for local appeals against development from its planning framework document. Lobbyists from the British Property Federation and others were effectively invited to rewrite the framework for themselves. The industry then donated a further million pounds to stave off higher council tax banding in response to Labour’s mansion tax.

This is hardly unique to planning. The NHS is awash in inducements to doctors to prescribe branded medicines. Arms company boards are stuffed with generals. The banks that fund private finance initiatives keep the Whitehall doors revolving. Declarations of interest by members of the House of Lords read like a lobbyists’ congregation. It clearly pays companies to lobby. The irony is that it was David Cameron who made great play of curbing this in his Lobbying Act. It was, he said, “the next big scandal waiting to happen”. Yet the only scandal was how the act was watered down, and how Cameron’s transparency register for lobbyists was lobbied to oblivion.

British lobbying is not as blatant as Washington’s infamous “Gucci Gulch”, where interest groups stuff the pockets of congressional lawmakers. Corruption in Britain is rarely through payments to individuals, and public officials seldom indulge in the log-rolling – legislators trading support for each other’s pet projects – seen in American politics. But the risk of bias and partiality exist in parts of the public sector. Of these, property planning, where huge sums of money can be involved, is the most obvious.

Everywhere money is at stake, those regulating it will be open to temptation. That is why oversight is crucial. But oversight of British local government is currently on a par with a banana republic. The Standards Board for England was abolished in the course of Cameron’s “quango cull” in 2012. It supposedly monitored the ethical performance of officers and councillors in local government. It was criticised as cumbersome, meddlesome and bureaucratically intrusive. Few mourned the board’s passing. Each local council was then expected to make its own arrangements.

The minister at the time said there was a need “for a light touch”. Westminster council took him at his word. It might have been a good idea to see the Standards Board go, but it should have been replaced with something. Even the most ardent localist cannot expect councils to float free of any oversight. Millions of pounds can turn on a planning decision. Anyone who knows these local controversies will attest that many stink to high heaven.

Davis has denied any wrongdoing and nobly referred himself to Westminster’s own “monitoring officer”. It is hard to see how this meets any plausible test of independence. Much now rests on the shoulders of this officer, as it does on the judges reviewing the Sellar glass box decision. The Paddington horizon will be their memorial. Everyone is now on trial, not least local democracy.”

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/feb/23/wine-dine-democracy-trial-westminster-city-council-planning-committee

EDDC councillor freebies

Can be found here:

http://eastdevon.gov.uk/council-and-democracy/councillor-conduct/gifts-and-hospitality/

Councillors Diviani and Twiss appear to have only ever met only one developer (Baker Estates) but have done so twice in September 2017 and December 2017 to discuss “future projects in East Devon”, Councillor Skinner has been a beneficiary of rugby tickets paid for by the Carter family (Greendale) several times, Councillor Moulding has met developers St Modwyn and Heritage Developments and Clinton Devon Estates treated several councillors to a concert at Exeter Cathedral.

Free Sandy Park rugby match tickets seem to be quite popular with Councillors Diviani, Godbeer, Skinner, Wright and Moulding.

“Labour says land value tax would boost local government budgets”

“Labour is considering a tax on land values as a way of boosting local government budgets, shadow chancellor John McDonnell has said.

In a sign of the party’s confidence about growing public interest in a fresh approach to managing the economy, McDonnell said cuts to council spending were so severe that it might now be possible “to have a rational debate”.

At the last election the Tories called the proposal, which was included in Labour’s manifesto as part of a review of council funding, a “garden tax” that could force home owners to sell up. The Greens and the Liberal Democrats are also interested in the idea.

A land tax, where a percentage of the value of the land is levied annually is popular with some economists, who say it is a logical approach to taxing individual wealth. But many politicians across the political spectrum are alarmed at the thought of introducing a new tax. A new tax on wealth that creates losers as well as winners would inevitably be a hard sell.

But McDonnell told the audience at the event organised by the Resolution Foundation, where he set out Labour’s plans to boost household incomes, that the crisis in the funding of local services may have opened a window of opportunity.

“I think we are at a stage where the decline in terms of funding to local government and the consequential effect on local services – many of them are in crisis – means, I think, that people are now willing to consider more radical solutions than they have in the past.”

Councils are hamstrung by government rules and cannot raise council tax significantly without a local referendum, which would be costly to run and would have an uncertain result. But the tax – introduced nearly 30 years ago to replace the unpopular poll tax – has not been uprated since then. It leaves many councils struggling, with too small a tax base to meet all their obligations.

Other councils are on the brink of catastrophe. Northamptonshire county council announced earlier this month that it could only afford to meet its statutory obligations. On Thursday the accountants KPMG, who audit the council’s budget, said it did not balance and was therefore illegal.

The local government association has said that by 2020 many councils would struggle to provide some public services, partly because of botched central government reforms. By 2020, central government funding will have been cut by more than 50% since 2010.

Council tax is regressive because it is levied on a notional value that has no relation to household income or to the market value of the property. However, unless it is regularly updated, a land value tax would share some of those weaknesses. But it would be directly related to the wealth of the homeowner and it would capture the rapid growth in house values that have been a financial boost to those who own property.

One council, Westminster, one of the richest in the country, is now proposing that wealthy residents pay a voluntary additional contribution, ringfenced to help offer improved services to rough sleepers and young people.

There is increasing support in policymaking circles for a land-value tax. Tony Blair’s thinktank, the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, backed the idea in a policy paper published at the end of last year. ”

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/feb/22/labour-says-land-value-tax-would-boost-local-government-budgets

“Demand for new homes sees house builder Barratt rake in profits and pledge another £175m payout to shareholders”

And all done on the back of building fewer houses:
https://eastdevonwatch.org/2017/02/22/profits-rise-at-barratt-despite-the-uks-biggest-housebuilder-building-fewer-homes/

and a bribery scandal:
https://eastdevonwatch.org/2017/01/26/four-arrests-for-bribery-at-developer-barratts/

“House builder Barratt Developments is cashing in on the demand for homes across the UK with bumper half-year profits in the last six months of 2017.

The new home builder reported a record half-year profit of £342.7 million in the second half of last year, a 6.8 per cent increase on the year before.

While it said a slowdown in high-end central London homes could hit margins, Barratts planned to offset it by buying more land and ‘operational efficiencies’. …

The group revealed plans to pay out a special dividend to shareholders worth £175 million in both November 2018 and November 2019, something it said reflected its ‘confidence’ in performance. …”

http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/markets/article-5417233/Barratt-Developments-rakes-340m-profit.html