Planning conflicts of interest? In Croydon? Don’t be silly

The Daily Torygraph, that bastion of left-wing revolutionaries, yesterday ran a fascinating report on how some councillors had been abusing their position within local authority planning committees to line their own pockets. Or purses. Shock! Horror!

Hilary Benn: councillors would have "clear conflict of interest"

Hilary Benn: councillors with consultancies would have “clear conflict of interest”

This, of course, would never be allowed to happen anywhere as upright and right-thinking as Croydon, where councillors who work for building industry lobbyists manage to get around to resigning from planning committees, somewhat reluctantly, months after the apparent conflict of interest is highlighted on … Inside Croydon.

This report from last year may offer some context, particularly on the reluctance aspect of the resignation.

The Torygraph – the paper which famously exposed MPs’ scandalous expenses claims, such as the extravagant spending on his house and garden by Croydon South’s Lord Bletchingley – has followed up its report today by publishing a letter to Eric Pickles, the local government minister, from Hilary Benn, his Labour shadow.

Benn makes this important point: “It is not right for a councillor to take on paid consultancy for clients seeking to influence the local authority on which they serve. It is a clear conflict of interest.” Them’s our italics. Just for emphasis.

We reproduce Benn’s letter in full here:

Rt Hon Eric Pickles
Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government
Eland House
Bressenden Place
LONDON SW1E 5DU

11 March 2013

Re: Councillors who are paid to lobby on planning matters

I am writing following the report in today’s Daily Telegraph about councillors who run or are paid by consultancies to advise developers about planning applications.

I think this highlights a particular loophole in the current system which seems to allow councillors to get paid to lobby for or advise on planning decisions in their own authority. I am not saying that being a councillor should not in itself preclude you from working in lobbying at all, including advising on planning applications going to other authorities, provided their interest is publicly declared.

However, I hope you will agree with me that it is not right for a councillor to take on paid consultancy for clients seeking to influence the local authority on which they serve. It is a clear conflict of interest and the rules need to be tightened to stop it happening.

In doing so we should follow the example of Parliament where we already have a rule which bans lobbying for reward. I think the same rule against paid advocacy in their own authority should apply to all locally elected representatives, and I would therefore urge you to take action immediately to bring in a similar rule for local government.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Rt Hon Hilary Benn MP
Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

With billions of pounds of development schemes being proposed for Croydon, by such mega-sized builders as Laing, Menta, Redrow, McAlpine, Barratt (the list goes on), there surely cannot be any councillors in Croydon looking to benefit personally from their “influence” with the council. Can there?

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About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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