Flagship Tory council may turn red due to councillors’ cosy relationship with developers

Owl says: If every Tory council with cosy relationships with developers turned red there wouldn’t be any left!!! Tory/developer, horse/carriage!!!

“It is the Conservatives’ local government flagship, blue since its creation in 1965. But in Westminster, amid a growing row about the influence of property developers, next month’s local elections are starting to look a bit tight.

In the ward covering London’s West End, some of the priciest real estate in Europe, two of the three sitting Tory councillors have been ousted by the party after opposing a wave of new building, which they say is overwhelming the area.

One of the councillors, Paul Church, said he had “tried to stand up for the communities I was elected to represent against the dominance of property developers and their agents, patronage and power in Westminster” but he had been “bullied, silenced and threatened by their powerful allies. Local government shouldn’t be like this.”

The other, Glenys Roberts, who has represented West End for 19 years, said: “I have tried to find out why I was deselected and they won’t tell me, so I feel as if I’m in a Kafka novel.” She said she had protested against “too much demolition” in Soho, part of her ward, adding: “If you completely get rid of the loucheness and the interestingness, do you just get rid of Soho and the reasons that anybody would ever come there?

“These are the issues I was very deeply involved with. They [the council leadership] didn’t like me being involved with State of Soho [a local group that campaigns against overdevelopment], but I just wanted the best for my area and the people I represent.”

Soho, a small area made up mainly of 18th and 19th-century houses, faces almost 20 large development schemes. Seven involve significant demolition of historic buildings, including the former Foyles bookshop in Charing Cross Road, a plan described by Historic England as doing “substantial harm” to the Soho conservation area.

The row will reopen concerns about developer influence at Westminster council, whose former deputy leader, Robert Davis, accepted more than 500 gifts or freebies, 150 of them from developers, while chairing the committee that decided on some of their planning applications.

Even the council leader, Nickie Aiken, admitted to The Sunday Times: “I do recognise that there was an historic issue in Westminster with the perception of these relationships. To date I have found no evidence of any wrongdoing or impropriety… [but] Westminster city council under my leadership will reassure residents about the integrity of the planning process.”

Davis left the planning job last year and “stepped aside” as deputy leader last month after it was revealed that he had taken gifts, meals or hospitality 514 times in three years, including nine free foreign trips, tickets to dozens of West End shows and hundreds of meals at top restaurants including the Ivy, the Ritz and Sexy Fish. He referred himself to a standards investigation but denies any wrongdoing and has been selected to stand for re-election as a Conservative.

In Mayfair, another part of her ward, Roberts said that “a lot of the rules [the council] have for keeping conservation areas in the right proportions and all the rest of it were being totally overruled”.

She said that Davis had once told her to “shut up” about a development and a number of other councillors “have told me he has tried [to silence them]”.

A third councillor who has been deselected in a different ward said Davis had telephoned to threaten them with “consequences” for their council career if they publicly spoke against controversial planning projects in their ward.

Davis said last night that he “never discouraged anyone from raising legitimate objections or concerns” but had “advised Mr Church that it is often sensible to air concerns with officers and members prior to a committee hearing, so as to allow them to be carefully considered and, ideally, addressed beforehand”.

He “expressly” denied threatening anyone with any consequences for opposing a planning application.

Roberts also said pressure was put on Westminster’s planning officers to change their recommendations to favour certain schemes.

“I was rung up by one of the officers saying there were meetings being held behind the scenes, off the record, no minutes taken,” she said.

“He was asked to change his recommendation and he refused . . . [but] the recommendations were changed subsequently.”

Roberts did not accuse Davis personally of pressurising officers and Davis said he had never asked any officer to change a recommendation.”

Source: Sunday Times (pay wall)

“GRUBBY CORRUPTION’ Tax officials refused to investigate money laundering at telecoms company ‘because they donated cash to the Tories’ “

“TAX officials are under fire after it emerged they refused to investigate a company for money laundering – saying the firm was a massive Tory donor.

HMRC was asked by French authorities to raid the offices of telecoms firm Lycamobile, but turned down the request.

BuzzFeed revealed that in an email to the French officials, a senior civil servant said: “It is of note that they are the biggest corporate donor to the Conservative party led by Prime Minister Theresa May and donated 1.25m Euros to the Prince Charles Trust in 2012.”

HMRC has admitted the reference to Lycamobile’s political links was a mistake – but insisted that was not the reason they refused to probe the firm.

Furious MPs accused the tax authorities of “grubby corruption” and demanded an explanation from Philip Hammond.

Prosecutors in France launched an investigation into claims that Lycamobile uses its phone business to launder money two years ago.

They asked HMRC to help out by raiding the company’s offices in London, but the British officials refused in an email sent in March last year.

The email included the information about the links between Lycamobile and the Tories – who have now stopped accepting donations from the company.

Asked about the letter, HMRC initially denied it was authentic, saying: “This is the United Kingdom for God’s sake, not some third world banana republic where the organs of state are in hock to some sort of kleptocracy.”

But they later admitted it was real and said it was “regrettable” that the line was included.

A spokesman told The Sun today: “HMRC always investigates suspected rule breaking professionally and objectively and is never influenced by political considerations.”

HMRC added that the reason the request to raid Lycamobile was refused was that French officials didn’t provide enough information.

Labour MP Wes Streeting blasted the revelations today, saying: “This sort of grubby corruption cannot be tolerated.”


Jeremy Hunt didn’t tell Standards Commissioner he had bought 7 flats from an “a cquaintance” who was also a Tory donor

“Jeremy Hunt received a “bulk discount” on seven flats bought from a Conservative donor, the Guardian can disclose, as parliament’s watchdog opened an investigation into the health secretary’s admission that he breached money laundering rules.

The health secretary was forced to apologise for failing to declare his part-ownership of a company, which bought the luxury seaside flats in Southampton.

Kathryn Stone, parliament’s commissioner for standards, received a complaint about Hunt on Friday. The commissioner’s website confirms that Hunt is now under investigation.

Guardian inquiries established that the 82-flat block, called Alexandra Wharf, was developed by Nicolas James Group, a south coast property firm owned and chaired by businessman and Conservative donor Nicolas James Roach.

Neither Hunt nor Roach agreed to disclose the value of the deal but a source close to the health secretary said he had received a “bulk discount” for buying multiple apartments.

A spokesperson for Roach said that all sales at Alexandra Wharf were at “open market value”, adding that the businessman’s political donations had been properly declared on the Electoral Commission website.

They added that the pair had known each other for “several years” but had no business relationship beyond the purchase of the flats.

A spokesperson for Hunt said: “The owner of the development is a long-standing acquaintance.

“Jeremy paid standard market rates which would have been available to anyone else making an equivalent purchase.

“As Jeremy has been clear from the outset, the rental income from these properties will be donated to charity.”

Roach has made more than £50,000 in donations to Hunt’s South West Surrey constituency office since 2011, mostly in the form of complimentary venue hire.

The pair were pictured together in 2011 at a party to launch a £60m hotel in Guildford, Surrey, that was developed by Nicolas James Group.

Sir Alistair Graham, the former chairman for the committee on standards in public life said: “In terms of public perception of ministerial priorities, Hunt seems more concerned with maximising his personal interests rather than ensuring that there are good public services.

“On a local level, there does seem to be an incestuous relationship between a local donor and a local politician in a way which will make the public uneasy.” …”


Being a councillor: a public service or a feather-bedded job?

“The ceremonial head of a cash-strapped council is set to be given a £2,500 pay rise just weeks after a decision to shut the county’s youth clubs.

A meeting of Gwynedd council’s democratic services committee today recommended that the council chair should see their pay upgraded to “band 1” status.

The role – known in some areas as the county mayor – changes hands every 12 months and involves presiding over full council meetings and representing the authority at various functions in a civic capacity.

At present, the holder is afforded “band 2” status, meaning they would receive £21,800 in 2018/19.

But, if Gwynedd’s full council accepts the committee’s recommendation when it meets on May 3, the chair’s pay will increase to £24,300.

The committee’s findings come just a month after the authority decided to introduce a new youth service model, which will see all 39 existing youth clubs replaced by a single county-wide offering in a bid to save £270,000.

Cllr Charles Wyn Jones, who proposed the pay rise during this morning’s meeting, said: “Having fulfilled the role myself, I know that the council chair usually has to attend at least 40 functions a year, many of which take place in the daytime.

“I feel the title holder should be paid more than the committee chairs, simply due to the number of hours they have to put into the role.

“I know the role only lasts a year, but it involves putting in many hours.”

Cllr Dewi Owen, also a former council chair, echoed his sentiments: “Living in Aberdyfi and having to travel to functions in places such as Bangor, it meant having to stay over in bed and breakfasts and many hours of travel time in order to do the job properly.”

The new council chair, succeeding Cllr Annwen Daniels, will be selected by county councillors next month.

Meanwhile, all 75 Gwynedd councillors will receive a £200 pay rise to £13,600 a year, in line with the Independent Remuneration Panel for Wales’ (IRPW) findings for the 22 Welsh authorities.

Questioning the panel’s findings, Menai Bangor councillor Catrin Wager said: “I do feel that at a time when cuts are being made, an extra £200 for every member is questionable.

“Is there anything we can do apart from accept this?”

In response, democratic services manager Vera Jones confirmed that members could choose to waive the automatic pay rise by informing the authority in writing.

There will be no change in the salaries of the council leader and deputy, which will remain at £48,300 and £33,800 respectively.

Members of the cabinet will be paid £29,300 a year, and £22,300 for committee chairs.

The final decision on member salaries will be formally rubber stamped during Gwynedd’s full council meeting on May 3.”


Cameron developer pal wants to build 28 luxury homes and use S106 to fund renovation of his derelict manor house “for the public”

David Cameron‘s multimillionaire friend has insisted the money earned from building 28 luxury homes will benefit the public by helping to restore his Grade II-listed manor house in the countryside.

Nicholas Johnston has claimed that despite owning two massive country estates, he doesn’t have the funds to restore his 4,000-acre Great Tew estate in the Cotswold Hills, Oxfordshire.

So the Old Etonian announced he plans to refurbish his manor with profits earned from a proposed £56million ‘world-class car museum’ that includes upmarket holiday lodges, as he says the restoration will be a public service.

The action has angered locals as it is common practice for big-time property tycoons to use a portion of the development funds to bankroll local parks, donate to schools or other initiatives for the community.

Mr Johnston told the [local] paper: ‘It is a very expensive thing to save. There isn’t the revenue from estate activities to allow the restoration of Tew Park.’

He added that if the Oxfordshire council rejects his plans, the hefty cost could fall back on the public, due to the council’s responsibility to protect listed structures, saying: ‘If I don’t have the money to do it … ultimately that falls back on the public purse.’

Mr Johnston is partnering with American billionaire Peter Mullin to build a ‘world-class car museum’ that has 28 holiday homes on site near an WWII airfield.

Mr Mullin is a vintage car enthusiast and owns a Bugatti Atlantic – there are only two in world.

The development on the estate would include a demonstration track and a suite for corporate events, as Mr Johnston claims that only owners who put their luxury cars up for sale will be able to buy a home there.

Kieran Hedigan, project director for the car museum, shot down claims the development was elitist and that Mr Johnston had ulterior motives.

In another fight over the Great Tew estate, involving rights of way access, a judge blasted Mr Johnston and said he would say ‘whatever he thought was most likely to advance his case, without regard to the truth’.

The Great Tew estate has been owned by the Johnston family since the 1960s.

Mr Johnston purchased the entire seaside village of Bantham in Devon for more than £11.5million in 2014 because he felt a sense of ‘freedom and an independence’ there.

He fought off a rival bid from the National Trust to buy the estate – which features a golf course, shop, beach and about 20 homes – and hopes his children will one day take it on as a lifelong project.


Even the Daily Telegraph admits shameful child poverty situation – teachers washing kids clothes and buying them new underwear

When does this become unacceptable to the Tory Party?

“Teachers say they are having to wash their childrens’ clothes and loan parents money, as they complain of increased poverty.

Staff at some schools told how they keep a washing machine and tumble dryer on site, as well as clean underwear for pupils who are sent to school wearing dirty garments.

One in five schools now run a low cost food club, according to a joint survey of teachers carried out by the National Education Union and the Child Poverty Action Group. …”


Children in Dickensian poverty – thank you, Tories

“… Headteachers from schools in deprived areas of England, Wales and Northern Ireland say they are having to provide basic services such as washing school uniforms for pupils from poor households, and are even paying for budget advice and counselling services for parents.

Teachers and school leaders also said they were regularly providing sanitary products such as tampons for pupils, buying shoes and coats in winter, and in some cases giving emergency loans in cash to families. …”