Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Monitoring Officer's response regarding councillors, developers and planning decisions

Guest post by Philip Grant, first published as a comment on earlier posting.
 
Further to my "update" comment of 17 November LINK, I have now heard back from Debra Norman. She has said that 'it would not be appropriate for me to become involved in “public debates on issues of local interest”,' as 'I have to remain impartial and avoid any appearance of bias or pre-determination.'

I respect her position on this, but she also said: 'However, as there is no legal rule prohibiting the publication of my previous email to you, it is a matter for you whether you publish it.'

As her reply of 15 November was well-reasoned, and will help to contribute to a balanced discussion of the issues raised, I have told her that I will "publish" the full text of it on "Wembley Matters".

Dear Mr Grant

I am responding to your email below of 12 November 2017.

Allegations of breaches of the Members’ Code of Conduct (the code) are dealt with in accordance with the Council’s formal complaints procedure and should be submitted using the Council’s standard form – both of which are available on the Council’s website (see here: https://www.brent.gov.uk/your-council/complaints/complain-about-a-councillor/).

To date, I have not been contacted directly by anyone to complain about the matters set out in your email.

As therefore I can comment in general terms only, I hope the following is helpful.

In principle and for practical reasons, allegations of breaches of the code which are non-specific and don’t contain any direct evidence are likely to fail to disclose a potential breach of the code. For example, such allegations are incapable of being investigated in any meaningful or reliable way and/or are not susceptible to proof.

Of course, all Members, and especially senior Members, can reasonably expect to be held to account for their conduct and for complaints alleging serious misconduct to be dealt with properly, not only in accordance with established standards of good administration but also natural justice.

It is therefore regrettable when allegations of serious wrong-doing which are not specific and substantiated are made against individual councillors and made publicly available for repetition and comment by others. Allegations of this nature can cause serious reputational damage to the individual councillor concerned without him/her being able to properly defend themselves or clear their name, risk undermining public trust and confidence in local government and could even prejudice the Council’s ability to properly investigate or determine allegations of serious wrong-doing.

Public trust and confidence in all areas of Council decision making is important, with planning being a high profile example. It is for this reason that Planning Committee Members receive training on how to undertake their decision making role. In addition, all Members from time to time are reminded that planning decisions should always be taken in the public interest and on proper planning grounds (often referred to as material planning considerations, for example, planning policy and guidance) and in accordance with the general obligations set out in the code and the principles of conduct which underpin the code.

Members are made aware of the need to comply with the rules of natural justice i.e. the duty to act fairly; the duty to keep an open mind (i.e. the rule against pre-determination); and the rule against bias (both actual bias which may arise as a result of a direct (usually financial) interest in the matter to be decided and the appearance of bias i.e. the real possibility of bias arising from relationships or the decision maker’s conduct or actions or strongly worded views).

Members are also made aware of the standards of conduct expected of all Members whenever they conduct the business of the Council or their office and whenever they act, claim to act, or give the impression they are acting as a councillor. These include not using or attempting to use their position as a Member improperly to confer on or secure for themselves or any other person, an advantage or disadvantage, giving reasons for decisions and not bringing their office or the Council into disrepute.

The Council’s Planning Code of Practice supplements and reinforces these requirements. Members of the Planning Committee are aware that if they are approached by any persons or groups regarding an application they intend to decide, they are required to inform the Monitoring Officer.

Members of the Planning Committee know that they are required to make up their own mind. Voting blindly in support of party policy or the party whip is clearly not allowed. This includes not accepting a direction from their political group as to how they should vote. Nor should individual Members exert undue or inappropriate pressure on Members of the Planning Committee on how they should vote.

However, Members are not required to have a blank mind. The law permits Members to be pre-disposed to a certain point of view which they can give weight to but they must consider and give weight to all material planning considerations, other views and arguments, and all the evidence. In other words, they must be prepared to change their view if persuaded they should. In drawing a key distinction between pre-determination (which is unlawful) and predisposition (which is recognised as a reality of political and local government life), the courts have sensibly struck a pragmatic balance.

Provided Members comply with these rules, there is no legal rule against Members, whether of the same group or not, discussing strategic planning issues, general policy issues or, provided these rules are not breached, even a future decision.

Similarly, joint working, both formal and informal, and dialogue between Members of the Planning Committee and Members of the Cabinet is recognised as a legitimate reality of local government life. Members of the Planning Committee simply need to ensure that when making planning decisions, they make up their own mind and on the planning merits.

[Debra Norman, Chief Legal Officer, Resources Department, Brent Council]

Absent councillor: Should there have been a council by-election in Stonebridge?

The following has been posted on Facebook by Frank Downes. It appears to refer to Cllr Sabina Khan who some sources claim has not been resident in Brent for more than a year. Stonebridge is one of the most economically and socially deprived wards in London and needs and deserves committed and energetic representation from its councillors. It has already seen the closure of Stonebridge Adventure Playground and currently residents are campaigning against the unpopular redevelopment of Bridge Park.

Downes writes:
As Secretary of Stonebridge Labour Party, I was faced with a very difficult time, not helped by any faction of the party that I have been a paid member of, and supported for over 30 years.

At the last local elections a female candidate was foisted upon us. Arguments against this imposition were ignored. The rules were quite clear and accepted, we had to have a female candidate, our argument was, yes but just not this one. The lady in question was duly elected, and for the first 12 months or so had very little interaction with the community. 

In the second year we were told that she could not carry out her duties because of family problems. Fair enough grant her time to see if she can learn to cope, but then came the unexpected. She informed us that she was unable to carry out her duties for the rest of her term, and that she would not be standing for reselection. 

Presuming that she would do the right thing and resign so that a by-election could be filled to replace her I left thing ride until the next scheduled meeting. When asked Cllr Muhammed Butt informed me personally that she refuses to resign and will have to wait until 2018 to replace her as there was nothing he or the party could do. Oddly enough she has continued to collect her expenses for the last 2 years. Question: if she is not carrying out her duties, what expenses is she incurring?
This is an extract from Khan's attendance record which shows that she was absent for 67% of the meetings that she should have attended. However her November 6th attendances mean that she has escaped disqualification.


Cllr Khan's  business interests are registered as KS Enterprises E1 2LH and Romna Gate Restaurant in Southgare. Her 'land interest' which is usually the family home, is also in Southgate,

I understand that another councillor in neighbouring Harlesden has moved to Luton but is still active in the Harlesden community and has an 83% attendance record for meetings he was expected to attend.

HDV latest: Isolated Kober declaring war on her own party

This is an update from  the Crowd Justice page of Stop the Haringey Development Vehicle LINK


Councillor Alan Strickland publicly announced his withdrawal from the selection process for Noel Park ward by posting a two page letter on social media yesterday.

In it Cllr Strickland blamed the domination of “narrow factionalism” in the Noel Park selection process for the decision before attacking “factional activists” alleging voters “simply” followed their instructions ahead of a trigger ballot, sparked by his failure to get a majority on a first round vote which would have seen him automatically reselected.

Haringey Council’s housing chief added he did not feel confident what he had to say in the second round “would be received with an open mind” in what felt like a “sectarian”, or clannish, atmosphere.

“It is with a very heavy heart I have decided to withdraw my name from the remainder of the selection process,” Cllr Strickland added before going on to thank supporters during his decade in the ward as a campaigner, branch secretary and councillor.

“I’m proud over the last eight years, despite government cuts and receiving some pretty unpleasant abuse from some quarters, that I have never compromised my principles.

He added “I’ve been honest with residents about the tough choices we face, rather than offering hollow, crowd-pleasing answers.”

But in a further dig at opponents he said he had spent a lot of time hearing what residents think “not what small bands of noisy activists like to tell us they think”.

But he made no mention of Haringey’s plan to regenerate the borough by pairing up with private developer Lendlease – attacked by critics as a public assets sell off – which as housing chief he championed and regularly came under fire over.

Highgate Liberal-Democrat councillor Clive Carter described the omission as “odd” with no defence of the Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV) plan attempted.

“The statement is insular and self-absorbed. It does not consider the large number of Haringey residents whose homes and futures, jobs and businesses would be threatened by the HDV,” Cllr Carter said. 

“This is a measure of the extent to which Haringey New Labour has become out-of touch with ordinary residents, the very people they were elected to serve,” he added.

Gordon Peters, spearheading opposition to the HDV through a judge-led review, said with both Cllrs Strickland and Goldberg standing down it leaves the Leader, Cllr Claire Kober, more isolated.

“If she is to carry on with the HDV she is virtually declaring war on her own party as they are increasingly unhappy with what this is likely to do to the borough, as are so many of us in Haringey the more that is known about it,” Mr Peters said.

He warned more selections of candidates committed to stopping the HDV could follow.

“I do not see any good sense in them continuing to try to progress it - as they may think they can do behind closed doors while they await the judicial review outcome.

“I believe the HDV has driven into the sand. It would be the height of irresponsibility to try to keep it going and waste any more time and public money on it,” he added.

However, on social media Crouch End councillor Natan Doron came out in support of “a champion of working people” stating it was a “[s]ad day for Haringey”.

Cllr Strickland will remain in post until May next year.

Monday, 20 November 2017

Support legal challenge to keep border controls out of school


 From Against Borders for Children. Please support their crowdfunder to pay for a legal challenge to government policy. LINK 

This is particularly relevant in Brent where we have children in our schools of many different nationalities and where substantial numbers are undocumented.

--> Against Borders for Children is a coalition of parents, teachers, and campaigners.

Our aim is to reverse the Department of Education’s (DfE) policy of collecting country of birth and nationality information on 8 million children in England to help bring border controls into classrooms which was introduced in September 2016.

We've been campaigning since last year to get this policy scrapped. Now, with the support of Liberty, we’re hoping to win this in court – but we need your support to cover legal costs.
 
Collection of nationality and country of birth data is a toxic policy that has led to highly divisive and discriminatory collection practices such as asking only children assumed to be migrants to bring in passports and birth certificates.

The information is not being collected for educational purposes, but as part of a compromise with the Home Office on harsh measures that would have seen the children of undocumented migrants ‘deprioritised’ for school places. Nationality and country of birth information was going to be handed over to the Home Office as part of a broader data-sharing scheme to track down undocumented children and families through school records. Only public outcry has prevented this, and it could still be shared in the future. 

Some parents now fear sending their children to school could lead to deportation.

We believe schools should be safe for ALL children. Help us to fight this racist policy, and keep border controls out of schools!

NWLA's 'totally inadequate' response on why they changed their mind on the Cricklewood dump

Further to the question posted in my last post regarding the Cricklewood dump and the North London Waste Authority’s original opposition to the resiting: ‘Has anything changed?’
Here is Alison Hopkins’ request to the NWLA asking why they had changed their position and the (‘totally inadequate’ according to Alison) response:
I am writing to you as a resident of Brent – Dollis Hill, to be specific – and the former ward councillor here.  I have also submitted evidence to the Public Inquiry held this week into CPO3.
The NLWA submitted a most comprehensive objection to the CPO orders. Your statement included many of the issues which we living here have with the proposed Geron Way site, including those related to traffic, environmental issues and very close proximity to an infants school and houses. 

I am told by the Clerk to the Inquiry that the NLWA has withdrawn its objection. If this is the case, then this is deeply disappointing and extremely worrying. Residents here have opposed the resiting since it was first proposed back in the early 2000s. 

Could you please inform us why the NLWA has withdrawn its objection? The problems with the proposed Geron Way/Selco site have not gone away, and as a public body, we believe the NLWA has a duty of care to Brent residents. Moving the current WTF to the proposed site directly conflicts with that duty and is not in the public interest. 
From NLWA:
NWLA and LondonEnergy Ltd have agreed terms with the London Borough of Barnet for the provision by the London Borough of Barnet of a new waste transfer station at Geron Way, NW2. Given that the Authority has now been offered an acceptable replacement, we have withdrawn our objection to the London Borough of Barnet’s application for a compulsory purchase order that included the current Hendon transfer station. It is currently expected that the new waste transfer station will be ready early in 2020.


Why NLWA originally opposed the resiting of the Cricklewood dump - has anything changed?

In her submission to Barnet Council on the proposed waste transfer facility on the Edgware Road LINK, Alison Hopkins mentioned the North London Waste Authority's orginal opposition to the resiting.

For information here is their original objection:


Intriguing item for Tuesday's Brent General Purposes Committee

In the light of the out-standing electors' objections to Brent Council's accounts over the Cara Davani payout these are intriguing items on Tuesday's General Purposes Committee agenda. The Committee is chaired by Brent Council leader Muhammed Butt and consists of 6 other members of the Cabinet plus John Warren, leader of the Conservative Group:

 

7. Exclusion of Press and Public
The following items are not for publication as they relate to the following category of exempt information as specified under Section 100A(4) of the Local Government Act 1972, namely:
1. Information relating to any individual.
2. Information which is likely to reveal the identity of an individual.
3. Information relating to the financial or business affairs of any particular person (including the authority holding that information).
4. Information relating to any consultations or negotiations, or contemplated consultations or negotiations, in connection with any labour relations matter arising between the authority or a Minister of the Crown and employees of, or office holders under, the authority.
5. Information in respect of which a claim to legal professional privilege could be maintained in legal proceedings.
6. Information which reveals that the authority proposes –
(a) to give under any enactment a notice under or by virtue of which requirements
are imposed on a person; or
(b) to make an order or direction under any enactment
7. Information relating to any action taken or to be taken in connection with the prevention, investigation or prosecution of crime.
8.
Severance Arrangements
The paper informs the Committee of the contractual costs of redundancy and early retirement of the Director of HR and OD.



Sunday, 19 November 2017

Ditch the Dump! Dollis Hill protests at being made a 'rubbish sandwich' by Barnet Council


148 residents have objected to the locating of a waste transfer facility on the Edgware Road near residential properties and a school. The 'dump' is just within the Barnet boundary but will affect Brent residents. There are no comments support the proposal on the Barnet Council planning portal. LINK

Alison Hopkins has submitted the following comment:

I object in the strongest possible terms to this damaging and wholly unnecessary planning application. This is on the grounds of proximity to housing and schools, vastly increased traffic and congestion, air pollution and noise and environmental damage. 

Over the decades, we in Dollis Hill and Brent have been ignore and side-lined by Barnet Council. Our objections to the disastrous changes to road layouts, the massive increase in traffic, both cars and lorries on our roads, and to the destruction of our community by Barnet Council have been ignored.
There is no benefit to anyone living in Brent of ANY of your plans. Using the word regeneration to describe them is laughable if it were not so tragic. 

Barnet and its Brent Cross development partners have carried out a few so-called consultation exercise here. These have not only been meaningless, but have also resulted in the production of documentation which has gone from misleading to outright lies. 

The dump – and let’s not call it a waste transfer facility, that’s camouflage – is not needed. The only reason that the current WTF is being moved from the eastern side of the railway line is so that Barnet and the Brent Cross partners can build expensive housing with a high return to overseas and other investors. The current WTF is in a non-residential area and waste is moved out to landfill by train. Barnet claim that it’s not as bad as the original plans, as it’s “smaller”. Well, it’s far worse than the current dump, which at least makes some pretence to environmental care by using rail. However, the current dump also emits pollution and is a source of considerable stink to residents. 

These plans call for a WTF – dump, let’s use the word again! – on the doorstep s of thousands of homes in Brent, and across from an infant’s school. These are less than fifty metres away. And of course, the dump is also directly next door to the Fellows Place development, a major housing development recently given consent by Barnet. 

There will be thousands of heavy refuse trucks entering, and thousands leaving. The processing and compaction will cause noise and dust and dirt. Nano particulate pollution has been proven to cause the most damage to small children - those small children who will be forced be neighbours of the dump. 

The Edgware Road is already at the highest pollution levels in London. The refuse trucks and lorries will add to this.


Barnet propose to site this dump as far as possible from their residents as they can and as close to Brent as they can. It will not be their voters who suffer, it will be us. 


And, given that this waste goes to landfill and recycling plants well outside London, why on earth does it need to be so close in? The answer is that it doesn’t. it is sited to suit the Brent Cross development – that regeneration that means we get messed up roads and ruined neighbourhoods. 

The current WTF already causes a stink in warm weather which can be smelled from some distance away – moving it to close proximity to homes and schools is utterly unacceptable. 

What is also horrifying is the fire risk: I quote from the Chief Fire Officers Association: “Waste fires are a consistent issue for the waste and recycling industry, with the Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA) estimating that there have been around 250 incidents of waste fires per year for the last decade, with an estimated cost to fire and rescue services of around £16 million a year.” The proposed dump is directly opposite two petrol stations. 

The North London Waste Authority themselves originally opposed this site on the grounds of proximity of schools and houses. Those houses and schools haven’t moved, so why the sudden withdrawal of those objections? 

Between this dump and the massive aggregate crushing plant proposed for a few hundred yards further south, we in Brent are a rubbish sandwich. Barnet need to LISTEN to us, not ignore us!
 Another resident comments:

Yet another senseless proposal by Barnet Council for the creation of a rubbish dump, coincidentally located at the very edge of the council limits. The location of the planned waste dump is also just outside the Low Emission Bus Zones announced by the Mayor of London LINK. Just in time, improvements in air quality introduced by this low emission zone will be immediately counteracted by a step increase in the number of HGV coming in and out of the proposed dump. Good job Barnet Council, you are continuing to actively work against the best interest of your tax payers and those from neighbouring councils.

For these reasons, I object to this application. Hopefully the committee will have some common sense and will put the health of tax payers ahead of other interests.

To comment go to LINK