The Guardian | Letters)
Thu 22 Feb 2018
• We wrote to the leader of Westminster city council, Nickie Aiken, asking for a meeting on the subject of the borough’s conservation areas and heritage policy in February 2017. We are yet to receive a reply. Why are councillors with influence over planning decisions in touch with one side and not the other? Westminster once had exemplary and enlightened heritage protection policies – now its elected members are trashing the borough’s fantastic historic streets with damaging overscaled development like the highly controversial Paddington Cube, which we are contesting in the courts.
Director, Save Britain’s Heritage
• Following the revelations that the deputy leader of Westminster city council, Robert Davis, received extraordinary levels of hospitality, you report the next day (21 February) that he has “referred himself to the authority’s monitoring officer”.
Should we be reassured? In April 2016 I raised concerns directly to the monitor at Westminster city council, highlighting similar detail of extravagant hospitality received by Cllr Davis from big developers in advance of granting them planning permission, describing how this breached the council’s constitution and policies. The monitor dismissed this, assuring me that Cllr Davis “feels no pressure at all arising from his contacts”. Curiously, he copied Cllr Davis in his reply to me.
Westminster residents may see this differently. Excessive hospitality creates an expectation of a quid pro quo. Disclosure alone is insufficient remedy for this type of conflict of interest. Stronger controls are needed in local government to protect public officials from undue influence. The planning department sanctioned the destruction of much heritage in recent years.
A more independent review is needed than can be provided by Westminster’s internal monitor.
• The real scandal at Westminster council is that its planning committee works through subcommittees of which there are just four members, and the chairman has a vote in his own right but also a casting vote. The chairman uses his casting vote to ensure all applications which are favoured, regardless of opposition and concerns, are approved. It is the totality of the behaviour of the councillors and the council that needs to be explored, not just the invitations to social events.
Professor Emeritus Howard Williams
• Tamasin Cave (Opinion, 21 February) suggests that information on relations between local councillors and property developers be passed to the local press. What local press? Tottenham hasn’t had a paid-for local paper for a while, even if social media flourishes. In areas where there are still papers, journalistic resources to investigate the murk of planning issues are often lacking. Democracy is not being well served here.