“Tory donors among investors in Cambridge Analytica parent firm”

“Conservative party donors are among the investors in the company that spawned the election consultancy at the centre of a storm about use of data from Facebook.

Filings for SCL Group, which is at the top of a web of companies linked to Cambridge Analytica, show that since its conception in 2005 its shareholders and officers have included a wine millionaire who has given more than £700,000 to the party, a former Conservative MP, and a peer who was a business minister under David Cameron. …

From its outset as a UK-registered company, SCL Group had investors from the upper echelons of British life. Lord Marland, a successful businessman who became a minister in 2010, held shares personally and through two related investment vehicles, Herriot Limited and a family trust. …

Sir Geoffrey Pattie, a former Conservative defence and industry minister, took a key role in the company for its first three years. In a Guardian article from 2005 he is described fronting the company’s stand – which is “more Orwell than 007” – at a defence show in London. Pattie is shown to have resigned as a director in 2008.

One of Marland’s fellow investors, and the person now registered as having “significant control” over SCL Group, is a Conservative party donor called Roger Gabb.

Gabb, who introduced the Volvic water brand to the UK then went on to make millions selling wines including the Kumala label, now owns more than 25% of the company. At its formation he was named as a shareholder, as was the Glendower Settlement Trust which is linked to him and his wife.

Gabb has given £707,000 to the Tories since 2004, making contributions to the main party and his local Ludlow branch. In 2006 he gave £500,000 to the party, making him one of its largest donors at the time.

He was also a campaigner for Brexit, signing letters on behalf of the campaign as a director of Bibendum Wine, and placing an advert in local newspapers. In October 2016 he was fined £1,000 by the Electoral Commission for failing to include his name and address in the advert.

The property tycoon Vincent Tchenguiz was also a shareholder via his company Consensus Business Group. Tchenguiz donated £21,500 to the Conservatives between 2009 and 2010.

For eight years from 2005 Consensus Business Group held just under a quarter of the shares in SCL, which was valued at around £4m at the time of the investment.

The firm said it had no role in the running of the company, and had sold off its stake in 2013. It appears that it received around £150,000 for the shares.

Julian Wheatland, a close associate of Tchenguiz, was involved with SCL Group from the beginning, and is still a director at the company.

The other main players at SCL Group are Nigel Oakes, an old Etonian from a military family – his father is Maj John Waddington Oakes – and a former boyfriend of Lady Helen Windsor. Oakes had previously set up a company called Behavioural Dynamics which made many similar claims to SCL about its ability to influence voters. In 2000, it worked for the Indonesian president, reportedly without great success.

Nix, a fellow old Etonian, is reported to have joined Oakes at an earlier incarnation of SCL in 2003. Companies House data shows he is linked to 10 firms, which all appear to be linked in some way.

On Wednesday, the Scottish National party’s leader in Westminster, Ian Blackford, asked May about her party’s links with SCL, which he said “go on and on”.

“Its founding chairman was a former Conservative MP. A director appears to have donated over £700,000 to the Tory party. A former Conservative party treasurer is a shareholder,” he said. …”


“Court of Appeal backs decision to put neighbourhood plan to referendum”

“Leeds City Council did not act unlawfully when it put a neighbourhood plan to a referendum after modifications had been made that partly differed from those recommended by the examiner, the Court of Appeal has said.

Kebbell Developments had challenged the council’s decision to allow the Linton neighbourhood plan to proceed to a referendum before its adoption under the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004.

A 4.5 hectares site called The Ridge was not owned by Kebbell but it has applied for planning permission to build 26 homes there. The plan as drawn up would designate the site as unsuitable for development.

When the case first went to court Kerr J concluded Leeds had not dealt with the examiner’s recommendations unlawfully.

The appeal had to decide whether the council acted outside its powers in departing from the examiner’s recommendations when modifying the plan in relation to The Ridge, whether it failed to give sufficient reasons for its modifications, and whether it should have consulted on these.

Giving the lead judgment in Kebbell Developments Ltd v Leeds City Council [2018] EWCA Civ 450, Lindblom LJ said the modification was one the council was able to make in exercising its statutory powers.

“The modification was comfortably within the ambit of the local planning authority’s statutory power to modify a neighbourhood plan before putting it to a referendum,” he said.

The judge added: “The city council was entitled to conclude that the modification was effective both in securing compliance with the ‘basic conditions’ and in achieving internal consistency in the neighbourhood plan. There was no breach of the statutory procedure.”

He said the council’s reason for its actions could not “be regarded as unclear or inadequate”.

The procedure for post-examination representations on a neighbourhood plan was “tightly defined [and] the circumstances in which a local planning authority will be required to consult in accordance with it are limited to the particular circumstances referred to”, which did not fit with Kebbell’s case concerning The Ridge, the judge noted.”


“Barn conversion developments `could heap more pressure on rural infrastructure´ “

“A potential surge in barn conversion homes could heap more pressure on rural schools and roads in England, the Local Government Association (LGA) claims.

The LGA fears that changes to permitted development regulations, which come into force on April 6, may trigger a dramatic increase in the number of conversions.

It said currently, landowners can convert agricultural buildings into three new homes without the need for planning permission, but changes will soon allow conversions of individual agricultural buildings into five new homes.

The LGA said this means an increasing number of larger agricultural to residential conversions could take place without having to get planning permission or contributing towards local services, infrastructure and affordable housing.

It said there has already been a 46% jump in residential conversions from agricultural buildings in England in recent years.

In 2015/16 226 homes were created from agricultural buildings and in 2016/17 this figure was 330, it said.

Councillor Martin Tett, the LGA’s housing spokesman, said: “Councils want to see more affordable homes built quickly and the conversion of offices, barns and storage facilities into residential flats is one way to deliver much-needed homes.

“However, it is vital that councils and local communities have a voice in the planning process.

“At present, permitted development rules allow developers to bypass local influence and convert existing buildings to flats, and to do so without providing affordable housing and local services and infrastructure such as roads and schools.”

He continued: “Relaxations to ‘agri to resi’ permitted developments risk sparking significant increases in the number of new homes escaping planning scrutiny in rural areas.”

Housing Minister Dominic Raab said: “Through strengthening planning rules and targeted investment, we are ensuring we are building the homes the country needs as well as the local services needed by communities.

“In rural communities our changes will mean more flexibility on how best to use existing buildings to deliver much-needed properties.

“This is part of our ambitious plans to get Britain building homes again and ensure they are affordable for local communities.”


Effect of “viability loophole” on rural communities

House builders are exploiting a legal loophole so they don’t have to build as many affordable homes in the countryside, claim campaigners.
Homeless charity Shelter and the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) analysed data they say shows that housing developers are shirking their responsibilities.

The two charities released their findings ahead of a speech by communities secretary Sajid Javid who is expected to outline government reforms to national planning rules.

Looking at eight rural councils over one year, the analysis shows that half the affordable homes that councils were required to build were lost when viability assessments were used.

Shelter and CPRE said their findings demonstrated that the housing crisis was not just confined to cities – but was having a serious impact in the countryside as well.

They said developers were using ‘viability assessments’ to argue that building affordable homes could reduce their profits to below around 20%.
This gave them the right to cut their affordable housing quota.
It meant developers were over-paying for land and recouping the costs by squeezing affordable housing commitments – a tactic often used by developers building big housing schemes.

Shelter and CPRE are calling on the government to use planning rules to stop developers from using this loophole to wriggle out of providing the affordable homes that communities need.

Similar research carried out by Shelter on housing lost to viability assessments in urban area paints a national picture of the affordable housing drought right across the country.

Shelter chief executive Polly Neate said: “We can see for the first time the true scale of our housing crisis – it’s not just blighting cities but our towns and villages too.

“Developers are using this legal loophole to overpower local communities and are refusing to build the affordable homes they need.”
Both charities said the government should use their current review of planning laws to close the loophole and give local communities the homes they required.

CPRE chief executive Crispin Truman said: “A lack of affordable housing is often seen as an urban problem, with issues of affordability in rural areas overlooked.

“It cannot be ignored any longer.

“Too much of our countryside is eaten up for developments that boost profits, but don’t meet local housing needs because of the “viability” loophole.”

Without adequate affordable housing, rural communities risked losing the young families and workers they needed to be sustainable, said Mr Truman.
The full report is available here.”