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Ex-Boris Johnson aide accused of lobbying for £187m government loan for firm he worked for

Boris Johnson’s former top aide Lord Eddie Lister has been accused of lobbying for a £187m taxpayer-funded loan for a company he worked for while in Number 10.

Stefan Boscia 

Lister, who suddenly left Number 10 last month, had a paid role at luxury property developer Delancey while simultaneously working for Johnson and as chairman for Homes England.

The Sunday Times revealed today that Lister attended a meeting at Homes England, a government body, that was being held to deliberate on a £187m loan application for a Delancey-run project.

The loan was approved.

At the time, Lister told other people at the Homes England meeting that he had “previously undertaken advisory work for Delancey”.

The minutes of the meeting say: “The committee were content that this did not constitute a conflict of interest.”

However, this was revealed to be untrue as he was still being paid by Delancey for consultancy work.

In his register of interests at the time Lister said he was working for Dream Ltd – a reference to Delancey Real Estate Asset Management.

Whitehall sources told the Times that some civil servants were concerned that Delancey were receiving preferential treatment.

One said they had been under “enormous pressure” to rubber stamp the loan.

Shadow justice secretary David Lammy said: “The sleazy, grubby, double-dealing Conservatives have rotten government to its core.”

Lister apologised for not fully disclosing his links with Delancey to Homes England and insisted “there was never any intent to gain any unfair advantage for the company”.

“On the board, I had no substantive involvement in matters relating to Delancey, recognising the potential for a conflict of interest,” he said.

“I do accept that it would have been better to fully recuse myself at the meeting where the Get Living consortium was discussed, given my separate role with the Delancey group of companies.”

The post Ex-Boris Johnson aide accused of lobbying for £187m government loan for firm he worked for appeared first on CityAM.

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The view inside the People’s Republic of Chipping Norton

Pssst – didn’t East Devon get there first? It’s what happens when Conservtive loyalties are stretched to breaking point – Owl

Tom Wall

The honey-stone centre of Chipping Norton and its affluent surrounding villages were once famed as the haunts of former PM David Cameron, along with his set of wealthy, powerful media and political allies. It is perhaps, then, the last place you would expect to witness the stirrings of anti-Tory southern rebellion. But this month it happened when the Cotswolds ward – along with nine others in Oxfordshire – rejected the Conservatives.

This week could see a rainbow, progressive coalition – made up of Liberal Democrats, Labour and the Greens – put the Conservatives into opposition for the first time in the county’s history. This comes after an alliance of non-Tory councillors last week took power in Cambridgeshire after the Conservatives lost control of the county – as well as losing the mayoral contest to Labour. The blue citadel of Tunbridge Wells borough council was also breached as the Conservatives lost their overall majority for the first time in more than 20 years.

These shifts in voter behaviour have received less attention than Labour’s ongoing struggles in some former red wall seats in the Midlands and the north, but some pollsters believe the crumbling of southern Tory strongholds could pose the party serious electoral problems. Professor Rob Ford of Manchester University argues that relatively affluent, well-educated voters are turning against the Tories in parts of the south-east, reflecting the breakdown of traditional, class-based voting patterns since the EU referendum. “The Conservatives risk falling into the same trap that New Labour did when it won in the south,” he says. “You get so excited about your advance in terrain that’s unfamiliar that you lose touch with your traditional heartlands.

“If the loyalties of Tory voters are stretched to breaking point, then it could get quite dramatic.”

Chipping Norton’s victorious Labour county councillor, Geoff Saul, is still coming to terms with his narrow 60-vote win, which encompasses the town and rural villages. “It’s a bit of a shock,” he said, in the cramped back room of his solicitor’s firm in the town. “It’s been a safe Conservative seat for 15 years.”

The signs of change were there if you looked closely, however. Saul and his small band of party activists have been patiently making inroads for years. “When I first moved here [20 years ago], most other councillors were Conservative. We’ve now got three Labour district councillors and 11 out of the 16 town councillors are Labour. Market towns have not been fertile territory for Labour, but we’ve turned Chippy red.”

There is plenty of evidence of this localised red surge, with Labour placards still adorning Cotswold-stone cottages and blooming, pretty gardens throughout the town. For some, there is pure jubilation. “I’m so pleased. I’ve just tweeted ‘I’m having soup in the people’s republic of Chipping Norton’,” says Edwina Lawrence, 69, an NHS coach, sitting outside a cafe on the High Street. “I’m very happy.”

Labour can count on unionised workers, mostly in the public sector, and increasingly professionals too. “The cottages that used to be for tweed mill workers 100 years ago are now full of university professors and teachers – that’s where I get lots of my votes,” says Saul.

Younger graduates with progressive voting habits are also moving from cities like Oxford. “[The result in Oxfordshire] goes against what is happening in the rest of the country, but maybe it is because of the move out of Oxford,” said Nicola Chadwick, 34outside the town’s Midcounties Co-operative, which has its roots in workers organising in the industrial revolution. “I’ve just moved [from Oxford]. I voted Labour and Green.”

Meanwhile, the Conservative vote is breaking for progressive parties. Rachel Stringer, 30, who previously always voted Tory, opted for Labour. “I’ve lost faith in the Tories. Brexit had a big impact because I’m anti-Brexit. I cried the morning after the referendum,” she says. “I thought I would never vote Labour – it’s bizarre.”

Other Conservatives feel overlooked and switched to the Greens. “It was a protest vote with a heart,” says Tina Gibbons, while her spaniel waits at her feet. Her friend, Sarah Eve, also turned against the Tories: “[This town] was very high-profile when we had David Cameron but it has been neglected since”

These painful upheavals for the ruling party were repeated across the county. The Lib Dems gaining eight councillors and the Greens three councillors. The Conservative leader of the council and chair of the LGA’s wellbeing board, Ian Hudspeth, lost to his Lib Dem opponent, Andy Graham.

While local issues such as contentious housing developments played their part, there is agreement that underlaying changes in traditional voting patterns are making life harder for the Conservatives in Oxfordshire.

The thoughtful new leader of the Conservative group, Eddie Reeves, says: “The party focus is quite understandably in growth areas. That will necessarily entail growing pains elsewhere. We are part of the unloved Tory shires.”

Oxfordshire Tory MPs such as John Howell in Henley and Victoria Prentis in Banbury, he adds,should not be complacent, he warns. “Those majorities were inflated by getting Brexit done and the Corbyn fear factor. I could well see them, a bit like a souffle, going [down] at the next election if there’s a strong Labour or Lib Dem challenger,” he says. “They are not as rock solid as they seem.”

Torbay Council sets up housebuilding company

Torbay Council has set up its own housing development company as part of its multi-million pound plans to tackle the housing crisis.

[You can guess that Torbay is not Conservative controlled – Owl]

Ed Oldfield, local democracy reporter 

Torbay is the most deprived area in Devon with only half the national average of social housing. One in four households rent privately and an estimated one in four children live in poverty. The area saw homelessness rising before the pandemic with hundreds of families on the waiting list. A council report at the end of 2019 described the situation as a housing crisis.

The council is now pressing ahead with plans to use its own companies to build and rent  homes, as well as working with established social housing providers. The project is expected to involve the authority lending more than £40 million towards building at least 360 homes, with more than 200 for social rent.

TEDC Developments will design and build the properties to be rented out by TorVista Homes,  both council-owned companies set up by the TDA Group, which is owned by the council to deliver economic development.

TorVista Homes was given registered provider status by the social housing regulator in March, which allows it to receive funding from the government agency Homes England. The council says it plans to deliver a range of affordable housing including temporary accommodation, extra care housing, homes for older people, social rent, affordable rent and shared ownership.

Housing has been identified as one of the key areas to be tackled by the partnership of Liberal Democrats and Independents which runs the authority under its aim to tackle poverty. 

The amount of social housing in Torbay at eight out of 100 homes is less than half the national average of 17. 

The council’s cabinet is being recommended to approve a business plan for TorVista Homes. A report to a meeting on this week gives an outline of the project, but the business plan document is being kept confidential because it contains financial information.

The report said the plan sets out that of the first 360 homes to be delivered by TorVista Homes, more than 200 will be for social rent. It said the lower level of assumed activity will involve spending more than £62 million, with the council expected to provide loans of more than £45 million.

The report said: “The financial implications of this new venture for the council are inevitably considerable. The scale of development and the figures to be invested are considerable although this spend is complemented by significant investment by Homes England by the way of grant.”

It is known that the council has allocated £25 million of borrowing to kick-start the housing plans. It is bringing forward plans to build flats for older people at the Crossways shopping centre in Paignton, and develop housing off Preston Down Road.

Another social housing scheme being progressed by the council is on land at Tweenaway Cross in Paignton. Planning permission was given in October 2015 to demolish the empty houses and build two three-bedroom houses and five two-bedroom flats. But the project failed to go ahead and a new planning application was approved in March 2019 to replace the houses with eight two-bedroom flats and one accessible one-bedroom flat.

Plans are being drawn up to develop council-owned land on part of the Victoria car park site at Paignton. The authority has also done a deal to sell land at Little Blagdon Farm to housing developer Taylor Wimpey, with a condition that three in 10 of the homes are for social housing.

In May 2020, the council’s cabinet set an annual target of delivering 180 new affordable homes.

Housebuilding has slowed in recent years in Torbay, meaning the number has fallen below government targets.  The stock of future housing sites has also fallen short of the required levels.

That has given developers a stronger case for schemes such as Inglewood, near Paignton, where a new village of up to 373 homes was approved by a planning inspector in March.

Fear and anger at plans which could leave towns unrecognisable

One Devon Tory MP says he will oppose the Planning Bill. No, not Simon Jupp or Neil Parish. – Owl

Frankie Mills

Dramatic proposals to reform the UK’s planning system were unveiled in the Queen’s Speech. If passed, the changes have the potential to create a housing boom that could give developers more free rein developing large swathes of rural areas.

Some residents in Totnes and Dartington fear it could permanently change the face of the town and destroy the green spaces that they have been fighting to protect, while others are concerned it would permit the development of expensive second homes in an area that locals have been priced out of in recent years.

If passed, South Hams, along with each council district in the U.K, will be divided into three categories: ‘growth’, ‘protection’ and ‘renewal.’ Growth areas will have current planning restrictions largely removed while development in ‘protection’ and ‘renewal’ zones will continue to be restricted.

The Planning Bill was announced at a time when Totnes has just been listed as the most searched for countryside market town on property website Rightmove. At the time of writing, there are currently zero properties available to rent in Totnes and 52 properties available to buy.

Anthony Mangall MP for Totnes said he firmly opposed the bill and would vote against it.

“My concern is that we’re going to get houses in the wrong places, we are not going to ensure we’ve got the proper infrastructure to deal with the increase of houses and people, and that we aren’t going to build affordable houses, which is what people need,” said Mr Mangall.

“One of the issues that we’ve had in the last 13, 14, 15 months, has been people being very quickly priced out of the area in which they were born and raised,”

“It’s great that we are an attractive place for people to come and live and work, but I’m also very conscious that… we need to make sure that we are not just building second homes,” he said.

“We’re in a perfect storm,” said Georgina Allen, chair Of planning for Totnes Town Council.

“What’s needed is one bedroom houses for the youth… and smaller family homes. These big executive homes with very little garden are the ones that are the cheapest to build and the most expensive to buy,” she said.

Allen fears that more homes will increase poverty in South Devon, an area where jobs are already restricted to two main industries.

“You’re asking for really severe levels of poverty, we’re not rich. We are totally dependent on the tourist trade and farming. There’s almost no other jobs,” she said.

Allen has been part of the campaign ‘Save Dartington’ for the past several years and has seen green spaces being sold off for development first hand as a means to pay for the estate’s debts.

She is concerned that new housing in an area like Dartington would mean selling off more green spaces and creating additional strain on the few existing facilities.

“Dartington has almost nothing,” said Allen. “All these new houses will have one garage and one shop,” said Allen.

“We will lose the countryside just when we need it most,” she said.

Manhall said that there was a significant number of Conservative MP’s who were working to reform the bill in a way that would be suitable for areas like Totnes and Dartington.

Manhall was one of the many Conservative MP’s who fought against the ‘housing algorithm’, an algorithm that predicted the amount of new homes needed to be built in different zones.

The algorithm predicted that South Hams would need a 117% increase in new homes. The scheme was scrapped after it was found to be based on incorrect data.

“The reason that we asked people to put in neighbourhood plans was because we recognise that every local community has its own views and own interests and own needs,” said Manhall.

“People in South Devon have been very clear about developing their own local neighbourhood plans. These neighbourhood plans matter, they need to be listened to,” he said.