Westferry Printworks - detail of requested investigations by sir Mark Sedwill & Clive betts MP + a summary
I have sent two letters on the 15th June to:
Sir Mark Sedwill, Cabinet Secretary repeating my 3rd June request for an investigation, letter here and below
Mr Clive Betts MP, Chair of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, detailing why his Commitee at Parliament should investigate this, letter here and below, my previous lettter to him can be found in an earlier post
Finally a 12 page summary of the key issues, background and history, here and below. I posted drafts of these documents on the 14th June but I made a few minor tweeks to all of them.
Westferry Printworks combines political scandal (fundraising dinners with a developer 5 weeks in advance of granting their scheme planning permission plus party political donations), concerns over corruption in the absence of any other information to explain why the Minister would financially benefit a developer to such an extent but also fundamental issues about how Ministers make planning decisions in secret. The involvement of the Prime Minister in the earlier smaller planning application on this site in 2016 adds further political interest although in my opinion the decision made by Sir Ed Lister then was more transparent and logical than the 2020 decision.
The Minister Robert Jenrick deliberately timed a decision to benefit a developer by around £40 million. In doing so he went against the wishes of his own Planning Inspector, the local Council, and the Greater London Authority. He also accepted the developer dropping the affordable housing from 35% down to 21%. Last August two separate planning experts judged the scheme could deliver more affordable housing and pay the £40 million for new infrastructure which the Isle of Dogs desperately needs. He thought differently, that the development could afford neither, why? I do not believe direct corruption took place, neither party was that dumb (I assume) but what happened feeds the narrative of corruption and therefore full disclosure is required.
When first challenged with a judicial review of his decision in February 2020 he claimed Tower Hamlets Council was on a fishing expedition but then weeks later changes his mind and accepts his decision ‘was unlawful by reason of apparent bias and should be quashed’.
A related mystery is why Tower Hamlets Council twice on this site failed to make a decision within the statutory time period, in 2018 they missed the deadline by six months. That appears to have been a conscious decision.
The Cabinet Office and the House of Commons Select Committee now need to investigate. The Police won’t investigate further without more information. The Minister needs to release all of the relevant documents and declare other meetings or donations. I believe that there is still something missing from this story to explain why he made the decision that he did which is why I resigned from the Conservative Party in February. Having spent years investigating alleged corruption in Tower Hamlets having to investigate a dodgy decision by a senior Minister in my own party was too much.
BBc Radio 4 interview the world tonight and why robert jenrick should not be the secretary of state for mhclg
My interview on BBC Radio 4 The World Tonight last night about Westferry Printworks
My bit from 2 minutes 5 seconds in
I say that I have not been impressed by Robert Jenrick MP and I do not think he should be staying as the Minister responsible for Housing, Communities, and Local government. It looks as if he is about to make some fundamental changes to the planning system, but the original decision plus his poor responses over the last few weeks suggests that although intelligent he lacks experience and the competence required to be a senior Minister (he has no planning or local government experience for example )
I also talk about endemic corruption in Tower Hamlets. When we see a problem here, one of the possible explanations is some form of corruption. So when I see a decision made nationally those suspicions get aroused again. But I have no direct evidence here either, just a decision I still do not understand and I am grasping for some form of explanation.
Three documents attached;
Tower Hamlets Judicial Review application here & below
GLA Judicial Review Application here
I also have the developers response to the GLA judicial review but it is a purely legal argument but if you want a copy let me know.
These documents received 5th June date from my 3rd March request to access the judicial review documents, see picture
The only document available after that date is the signed Consent Order here
Request for investigation into the decision of the Secretary of State Robert Jenrick MP to approve Westferry Printworks
Email sent today 3rd June to the Cabinet Office, Met Police, House of Commons MHCLG Select Committee and copied into the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG). I will post later more background but my Twitter has a lot of the information.
The email to them said
"Please find attached as a PDF a letter (also click here on link) formally requesting an investigation into the decision of Robert Jenrick MP to approve the Westferry Printworks planning application in my ward (I am the Councillor for Canary Wharf ward in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets) and the reasons for that request as I do not understand why the Minister would make a decision so advantageous to a developer and against the interests of Tower Hamlets residents and contrary to the Nolan Principles, and that this needs investigation.
I understand from the Daily Mail newspaper that the Met Police Special Inquiry Team have already received a request to investigate this, can this be sent to them."
By tomorrow Tuesday 21st April I have to submit to the Council a list of questions/issues for the Overview & Scrutiny Committee to look at.
Attached is my draft here as a Word document, PDF below.
The unlocking section needs more work
Strawman means I will not take offence if you rip it to shreds.
Let me know what I have missed?
Peter Golds and I sent the attached letter (& copied below) to the Mayor, Cabinet members and Council officers today as to what we think they need to do as regards Covid-19 given that the Council is responsible for Public Health in TH (not an NHS responsibility since 2013). It maybe that they have already agreed to do all of this in their meetings since the 30th January WHO announcement but to be sure we sent it to them.
It is based in part on information gathered from social media and ideas from you so if we have missed anything let us know and we will amend.
Draft Emergency Response to Covid-19 – Version 1
From Cllr Peter Golds and Cllr Andrew Wood
18th March 2020
I assume that these measures have already been put into place or are being planned but if not we believe this is what needs to be done:
Communications – we need to hugely ramp up our comms on this and involve the Council in community conversations underway already
Database of vulnerable people
We need to build a database of all vulnerable people, based on:
Adult Social Care
I assume you are aware by now of Facebook groups like ‘Tower Hamlets Covid19 Community Support’ as well as a number of WhatsApp groups trying to co-ordinate a community response and to help the vulnerable;
This is not the time for strikes and other disruption by Council staff or those providing essential services, if necessary delay ‘Tower Rewards’ for a year. It is a distraction. Push Veolia harder to sort out their issues.
Food delivery for those told to self-isolate
Retail/Panic Buying/Price gouging
We clearly need to be worried about:
Suggestions might include:
This section needs more work, how will we use extra money granted by government?;
The Church of England has stopped public worship and the Muslim Council of Britain strongly recommended the same the day before. Have we passed that advice onto all faith groups and facilities?
Gyms, Libraries, Public facilities
Registering deaths & funerals
4. Lawyers in Local Government and the Association of Democratic Service Officers have come forward with proposals to lobby to permit remote meetings in the event the current situation deteriorates to the point that all meetings are cancelled;
5. Tower Hamlets operates under an Executive Mayor and so decision making is different to most other councils;
6. There is no reason why full council meetings should only undertake business that it is legally required to do;
7. The May Annual Meeting can be restricted to electing the speaker ad appointing committees. There is no need for anything else to be on the agenda and the meeting can be formalised in a short time;
8. Obviously there will not, this year, be a reception following the meeting;
9. The Cabinet should meet but it’s deliberations can be web cast and members and officers can sit with wide spaces;
10. The regulatory committees; planning and licensing, have public involvement. Again, members and officers can sit and deliberate with spaces between them. The problem comes with public representation. Meetings can be webcast and limits can be placed on those attending the meeting, with public attendance limited to those making representation;
11. Parliament has placed restrictions on access to the parliamentary estate, this includes mass lobbies and no longer being able to enter the estate and access not permitted to non-pass holders who may only attend on parliamentary business.
Another political resignation this time my own:
• I am resigning as a member of the Conservative & Unionist Party
• Therefore I quit as leader of the Conservative group on Tower Hamlets Council
• I become an independent Councillor, a member of no political party, I am not joining another existing political party
• But to ensure that there continues to be an opposition locally I will stay as one of two members of the opposition Conservative group on Tower Hamlets Council (if I quit this group there would no longer be any formal opposition group as a group needs a minimum of 2 members)
• So the nature of my work will barely change except that it will be Peter Golds rather than I that lead the group (which will mainly affect who speaks at Cabinet / Council meetings).
My reasons for leaving are mainly because I have lost confidence in the ability of the Conservative Party as an institution to make good use of the power it now has.
While it has an extraordinary ability to win elections (and is even luckier in its opponents) it is weaker on what to do with that power. I disagree with too many Conservative policies/decisions to stay in not just because I think some are wrong but that I also think too many policies are inadequate given the challenges AND opportunities we now face. I have been publicly very critical of aspects of what Tower Hamlets Council does but in truth I am almost as critical of recent decisions made by the government. Three Conservative Prime Ministers have made a series of strategic errors and I worry things are getting worse, not better so it must be systemic to the party despite the presence in it of a number of capable people.
I also support a relationship with Europe based on an EEA/EFTA economic model. The party has chosen a different harder model and like the Peelites in 1846 I think it is more honest to split then pretend that I support the proposed trade policy. I cannot support a trade border in the Irish sea nor increasing trade friction and am concerned about the lack of debate about the impact on our services industry of a Canada/WTO relationship. The modern Conservative party has ignored why Margaret Thatcher pushed so hard for the Single Market with its four freedoms and Customs Union within the EU.
And it would be dishonest of me to stay in and to stay quiet (although as one of my reasons for quitting is to focus more on local issues I may not have much time to say much about national stuff). Being an independent will allow me to focus on local issues and to support politicians who I think are doing a good job including Liberal Democrats and yes some Labour politicians. The tribal nature of British politics is one of its greatest weaknesses.
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has had an extraordinary history, we have achieved extraordinary things for such a small group of islands and had a greater impact on the modern world than almost any other country. I think that contribution has not ended and I think that we could continue to have an outsize influence on how the world develops. Brexit now forces us to ask new questions about ourselves and our place in the world. What will we do with those new freedoms? What is the balance of risk and opportunities? Is the nation-state the only model or should we work collaboratively with other nations in a structured manner and how do we do that? I am not sure that we have even asked these questions properly let alone got answers yet. That is almost entirely due to failings within the Conservative party.
In 2016 I applied to become a Parliamentary candidate for the Conservative party to try and influence the Party from the inside. I have twice been rejected (ironically the 2nd rejection arrived just before I posted this) although I know many other people in Tower Hamlets who were made candidates. Three of them are now MPs.
But the final nail in the coffin for me was Robert Jenrick’s decision to approve Westferry Printworks against the advice of his own planning inspector. There was a solid argument for staying in and fighting on behalf of my residents with the government (as I fear our local MP’s will be ineffective at doing that). But that decision was so shocking I knew immediately that I had to resign.
I need to have a think about what to do next as I have effectively ended my political career.
But my main focus this year will be on local issues as I plan to do a lot of work on;
• Youth centers on the Isle of Dogs, we only have one small one, that is not sustainable
• New playgrounds in Sir John McDougall Gardens and Millwall Park, better than those to be found in neighbouring Boroughs, we have more £ then them
• Increasing school capacity on the IoD, getting Westferry Printworks secondary school built + rebuilding George Greens + improving school buildings and working out how many schools we actually need
• Transport issues on the Isle of Dogs from Jubilee line to new river crossings
• Plus continue to support the work of the Isle of Dogs Neighbourhood Planning Forum
• Lastly asking whether we should we explore setting up a Town Council for the area to give us more power and resources locally
But I have a question for you. Should I resign now and hold a by-election? Should I stand for re-election? I got elected in May 2018 as a Conservative, does leaving the Party but staying in the Conservative group work or not? I think for most residents the work I do won’t change (many do not even know I am a Cllr) but many people vote for parties not individuals, so can I still represent you until May 2022, the next scheduled election? Let me know.
On Thursday I was asked to give a presentation about Urban Densification to the London Irish Town Planners Association, the audience was half Irish based and half London based. The Irish are looking at densifying new developments so Irelands Government Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government visited the IoD Thursday with Irish planning colleagues to learn some lessons from us.
I had to do the attached quite quickly although I re-used some slides from the IoD Neighbourhood Planning Forum presentations (but the comments are all mine)
Thought you might find interesting and I do plan to do more work on it for future presentations so comments etc welcome
"Never forget that compromise is not a dirty word. Life depends on compromise" so said Theresa May when she resigned today, quoting Sir Nicholas Winton who saved Jewish children in Germany.
Problem is that she did not compromise when she most needed to.
A 52:48 Brexit vote while clearly indicating Leave also clearly indicated that a compromise was required. And a compromise does not mean you abandon your principles but it does mean trying to find the right solution that works for as many people as possible.
Yesterday I only decided how to vote at the last minute after much thought. In the end I did vote for Syed Kamall, the lead Conservative candidate in London.
1. It would be good for the government of the UK if it had at least one experienced MEP in the European Parliament. Somebody who can report back to the UK government what is happening in Parliament and vice versa.
2. He is a hard-working and experienced MEP with many personal qualities so even though he did not want the job (he is a Leaver) I voted for him.
3. If I had voted Lib-Dem / or Change UK – both options I had considered I would have had to quit as a Conservative Councillor. I did consider it but in Tower Hamlets a political group needs two members, if I quit there would no longer be an opposition group to the overwhelming Labour dominance. That would not be good for TH.
But how could I vote for Remain parties while still believing we need to Leave? And no party offered what I prefer as a compromise, a soft Brexit.
With a leadership election, the long-term future of the party is up for debate. It will force many of us to think about what membership means, the role of the Conservative Party and how it evolves to meet future challenges. But there is also the risk that it goes off at a tangent. But the Conservative Party has a long history of pragmatism (aka a survival instinct) so I hope that kicks in now.
I am thinking about how to steer it in the right direction as the UK needs a sensible, pragmatic, centre right party especially when the Labour party is going left. But for now it is easier for me to define my own red lines at which point my membership of the Party would be in doubt. They are:
1. A ‘no deal’ WTO exit
2. An electoral pact with Farage and the Brexit Party
3. An end to incompetence – too many mistakes are being made both at CCHQ but also at a national policy level as well as in delivery (Home Office/DWP)
As for leaders I like Rory Stewart, Sajid Javid, Jeremy Hunt and have always respected Michael Gove (the only Leave leader that I do), I wish Ruth Davidson was running. But also interested in seeing what others like Raab have to say before making final judgment as perceptions may not match reality.
I am in an odd situation, London needs to build new homes and I agree that quite a few can be built on the Isle of Dogs but I have none the less spent a lot of time to write 10 pages of reasons as to why the Inspector should refuse the new planning application for Westferry Printworks. It is basically too tall for the area.
You can see the appeal information here.
You cannot just say that you do not like an application you have to provide planning reasons as to why it should be rejected. Which are in the attached file.