Councillors cashing in on new planning rules
Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Local Government and also in Development
Councillors are being paid to advise property developers on how best to exploit forthcoming relaxations to planning legislation, a Daily Telegraph undercover investigation has revealed.
Fees of up to £20,000 are being charged by councillors who advise on how to get planning permission granted.
A councillor in East Devon told the Telegraph: “If I can’t get planning, nobody will."
Tory Graham Brown went on claim that he had “access to all the right people for the right clients. [I] don’t come cheap. I mean, there are jobs that I do for £1,000, and there are jobs that I do for £20,000 … if I turn a greenfield into a housing estate and I’m earning the developer two or three million, then I ain’t doing it for peanuts".
The paper also investigated the work of lobbying firm Indigo Public Affairs. The company's brochure lists current and former councillors on its books and explains how the firm “helps our clients achieve planning committee approval”.
One of its councillors for hire, Newcastle Liberal Democrat Greg Stone, said that there was a good chance that "via our network someone will know someone who knows somebody” at every council.
The Telegraph noted that despite an obvious conflict of interest, it is not illegal for local government politicians to be paid as consultants.
Yet another councillor seemed to confess to knowing how to bend the rules to get planning permission granted.
Cllr David Archer, who sits on Elmbrigde borough planning committee in Surrey, said: “I can’t [call it in to the planning committee] if I’ve got an interest, but there’s more than one way to skin a cat."
When contacted by 24dash, Cllr Archer said that his remarks were meant "flippantly" and were “taken out of context".
He explained that his comment "there's more than one way to skin a cat" meant nothing and that it was impossible to circumvent the rules.
He told us that he had been paid to help development firms "three to four times" over the last 12 years but refused to discuss the amounts he had received.
Richard Patient, the managing director of Indigo Public Affairs, told the Telegraph: “In common with most businesses, it is not company policy to make our staff list available to the public. However, all the councillors that we employ have declared their employment here to their respective local authority, and it is the council’s responsibility to mark this on the public record in their council’s register of interest.”
Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis said: “This government has increased accountability and transparency over councillors' interests, to accompany greater power and freedoms for local councils.
“Councils should adopt a Code of Conduct that reflects the Nolan principles on conduct in public life, with councillors declaring any private interest that relate to their public duties, and councillors must take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest.
“In addition, it is now a criminal offence to fail to declare or register disclosable pecuniary interests - which includes any employment or trade carried for profit or gain. The register of councillors’ interests must be published online by the council.
“Councillors should act in an open and transparent way, to avoid conflicts of interest on issues such as planning applications or benefiting financially from the issuing of council contracts."