An interesting example of “strategic consultancy advice”, another example of “questionable” behaviour. – Owl
A Tory former planning minister is reportedly under investigation for failing to declare an interest in a hotel development in his constituency.
Sir Bob Neill wrote a letter to his local council in December 2018, urging them to approve the redevelopment of The Royal Bell – a neglected hotel in his Bromley Constituency.
But he failed to mention in his letter that he was on the payroll of the Substantia Group – the firm handling the planning application for the hotel.
Sir Bob has been paid £50,000 by the firm for “strategic consultancy advice” since 2016, according to the register of members’ interests.
But his links to the firm were not explicitly outlined in the letter.
The code of conduct for MPs says they must be “open and frank in drawing attention to any relevant interest” in any communications with officials or members of the public.
It comes as Boris Johnson is reportedly gearing up to relax planning laws and extend building site hours in a bid to restart the stalled construction industry.
The PM is expected to back extending building hours and extend planning permission deadlines – which usually expire after three years if work hasn’t begun in a project.
Developers won’t need to submit a new application where permission has expired during the lockdown period. It’s thought up to 400 permissions for more than 24,000 homes would have expired by the end of this month.
MPs voted in 2018 for investigations by the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner to remain secret.
But it’s been reported the Commissioner has launched an investigation into Sir Bob’s involvement in the project after receiving a complaint.
Shadow Housing Minister Mike Amesbury said: “It beggars belief that a former planning minister would not be aware of the obvious conflict of interest in this case.”
And the Telegraph today reported Sir Bob had intervened in another planning application being handled by the same firm – again without mentioning his paid position.
Sir Bob wrote to London Mayor Sadiq Khan in 2018, backing Substantia client Cray Wanderers FC’s application to build a football stadium and residential housing complex in Flamingo Park, just off of the Sidcup bypass.
Sir Bob said: “Any representations that I have made in constituency planning cases have solely related to my role as the local MP and what I believe to be on the public interest.
“I have declared all outside interests [in the MPs’ Register of Interests] and acted to ensure that no conflict arises.”
There’s no suggestion of wrongdoing on the part of Substantia Group.