Gavin Barwell, the government’s Nimby housing minister, has outraged elected local councillors in Croydon and across the country with remarks he has made at MIPIM, the “booze and hookers fest” which doubles as the world’s largest gathering of property speculators and developers.Speaking in Cannes, where he had addressed a session organised by Croydon Council, the Croydon Central Tory MP told profit-hungry developers looking for land to build on to “come and see me”.
The planning minister’s remarks are seen as encouraging developers to bypass the local planning processes.
“Does this apply to Croydon?” was the incredulous reaction of one councillor when they had read Barwell’s remarks reported in The Grauniad.
The response is probably as much because of Barwell’s apparent disdain for planning laws as because, as people in Croydon are well aware, the housing minister has spent much of the past three years actively campaigning against house-building projects in his own constituency, attempting to thwart the local council’s efforts to build more homes.
Indeed, just last month Barwell’s local party colleagues lodged a series of objections to applications to flat-building schemes, including one which was within a mile of the MP’s own suburban home in Sanderstead.
Speaking in Cannes yesterday, Barwell said, “If you’ve got parts of the country where you want to build homes and you’re struggling to find land, you come and see me and I will then raise those issues with the relevant local authorities.
“I don’t want people who want to build unable to do so because they can’t find the sites they want.“That’s an offer to anyone in this room – if you’re struggling to find sites you come talk to me and I’ll try and do something about it.”
Developers attracted by such an offer from the Tory government’s housing, planning and London minister might do well to pause for a moment to consider Barwell’s own record in intervention to “deliver” major housing and regeneration schemes.
For it was Barwell, when a governor of the Whitgift Foundation as well as the local MP, who brought Westfield, the shopping mall developers, to Croydon to “transform” the ageing Whitgift Centre in a scheme initially offering 600 new homes.
That was in 2012; as of today, not a single brick has been laid towards the now £1.4billion project, as the develoopers, rather than the local council, have procrastinated over their plans, and potential profits.
Barwell does not appear to have mentioned the stalled Westfield and Hammerson project in Cannes, as he encouraged developers to find ways of bypassing the devolved planning powers of local authorities.
Barwell said the government was committed releasing enough land for 160,000 new properties.
The Guardian reports that in promotional leaflets handed to developers and investors at Barwell’s event, “the prime minister, Theresa May, said the UK was ‘open for business’ and was ‘more committed than ever to creating the most business-friendly environment possible’.”
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