Taylor Wimpey’s Sham Golden Lane Consultation

On 19 June 2017 Taylor Wimpey organised a ‘public’ meeting about their planned demolition of Bernard Morgan House, which they want to replace with a massive luxury apartment building that will block sunlight to nearby homes, schools and a local park, as well as ruining the architectural integrity of the grade II listed buildings in the area. They invited City of London councillors and some resident group representatives from the upmarket Barbican Estate to their meeting, but none of those who will be most immediately affected received notification from them about this ‘consultation’. Among those Taylor Wimpey’s PR company Westbourne Communications seemingly failed to invite was Prior Weston School, the Friends of Fortune Street Park or the residents of Golden Lane Estate (social housing); these amenities all directly face Bernard Morgan House. In other words, many and perhaps all of those who were least likely to roll over and accept Taylor Wimpey’s proposed plans as presented weren’t invited.

It is telling that residents from the Golden Lane Estate weren’t informed of a meeting in their own community centre about a proposed development that will impact on them more than pretty much anyone else. A number of Golden Lane Estate residents have been in close contact with both Taylor Wimpey and their PR company; so their interest in the matter and contact details are known to those who organised this charade. They weren’t invited precisely because the manipulators behind this gamed ‘public’ meeting knew they had their own sensibly formed views, and were likely to ruin Westbourne Communications pathetic PR stunt.

Present at the meeting were around half a dozen Taylor Wimpey functionaries, including two from the board of directors, plus Raj Mandair from Westbourne Communications. Mandair apparently attempted to ‘manage’ this shambolic ‘event’ on behalf of the developers. The audience consisted of about 12 people including John Tomlinson (Cripplegate ward councillor), David Graves (Cripplegate ward councillor), William Pimlot (Cripplegate ward councillor), Mark Bostock (Cripplegate ward councillor), Bruce Badger (chair of the Ben Johnson House Group, a residential block in the Barbican), a few others who we believe were Barbican residents, and possibly someone from the Welsh Church that abuts Bernard Morgan House. An email from Susan Pearson asking about the meeting was circulated to the councillors present, and some who weren’t, less than twenty-four hours before it was scheduled. It isn’t clear whether or not they were invited, or if some or all of them turned up after hearing about it from a third party. Pearson, also a City of London councillor, had been invited but was in Italy and unable to attend. This exchange of emails does reveal that even some councillors were unsure as to whether Mandair ‘s inept attempt at a PR jamboree was actually taking place.

This ‘public consultation’ farce will not surprise anyone who has read pieces about Westbourne Communications such as “The Corporate PR Industry’s Sneaky War on Internet Activism” by Tamasin Cave and Andy Rowell dated 24 March 2014 at Vice:

In recent years, the lobbying game has changed thanks to social media websites, citizen journalism (described by one lobbyist as “a major irritant”), and online petitions capable of getting millions of signatures in a matter of hours. Among the lobbyists affected by this shift is James Bethell, whose firm, Westbourne Communications, is in the business of fighting back against what it calls the “insurgency tactics” of online campaigners (“insurgency” here meaning “having a negative opinion and a blog/Twitter account” rather than actual guerrilla warfare). Their current clients include the oil and gas company Cuadrilla, the frackers who have been trying to convince people in Lancashire and Sussex to get behind the idea of pumping a load of poisonous water under their houses. Westbourne also led the campaign to defend HS2, a proposed high-speed rail line, from English communities who’d rather there weren’t trains roaring past their homes at 125 MPH. When you’re trying to get a $60 billion railway expansion, you need approval from the UK government—which means hiring a firm like Westbourne to keep a lid on protests.

Unfortunately for lobbyists, “Now almost everyone in the country has become a self-appointed campaigner,” as Bethell said in a 2011 interview. “Everybody’s seen The West Wing and has a Google account, and therefore has both the intelligence and the strategy, plus the technology, to put together a kitchen-table campaign.”

So how do you go about fighting this scourge of democratic, grassroots activism?

“You’ve got to fight them on every street corner,” advised Bethell. “You can’t just sit and watch your opponents run around doing what they like. You’ve got to get out into the bush, using their tactics and being in their face.”…

… Westbourne advised US lobbyists of the need to “pick off” their critics with “sniper-scope accuracy”—to “shut them up,” as he explained to an audience of distinguished guests at a conference in 2012. Westbourne engages in aggressive rebuttal campaigns, which involves creating a feeling among opponents that everything they say will be picked apart. This is an “exhausting but crucial” part of successful lobbying, says Bethell.

In other words, if Taylor Wimpey were actually interested in consulting local people about their planned luxury development in Golden Lane, they wouldn’t have hired Westbourne Communications to do the job for them. Taylor Wimpey haven’t engaged Westbourne to liaise with the community, they’re paying them to stitch it up. Part of their strategy appears to be to create a divide between Golden Lane and Barbican residents. However, while Golden Lane residents have more to lose than most of those in the Barbican, many Barbican residents realise that Taylor Wimpey’s planned development will have a negative impact on them too and everyone who lives or works in the neighbourhood. Given rising anger about austerity and exploitation, Westbourne and Wimpey will find it increasingly difficult to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes, even those who in other times might have looked like their natural allies.

Pippa Henslowe.

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28 thoughts on “Taylor Wimpey’s Sham Golden Lane Consultation

  1. Westbourne’s mission statement — Change Opinion — is a hoot as it is interested in neither. Their attitude of listening — then turning out to be stone deaf — is part of that same civic culture that culminated in last week’s conflagration. Their latest wheeze as reported is typical — partial and underhand. They should wear corporate tee-shirts with GREED printed on the front and SHAM on the back, take up origami and learn Bulgarian.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That sounds like a plan. I think the Westbourne Communications crew need to change their underwear too, it’s essential for hygiene and especially in this hot weather!

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  2. Re Taylor Wimpey’s plans for Bernard Morgan House. It is unfair to try to make the problem an issue between residents of Golden Lane and Barbican Estates as I have tried to ensure that over the last 18 months the concerns of all local residents and other local interests are represented by Bernard Morgan Liaison Group. If you want to know more about what we have been doing, please get in touch.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think you’re misunderstanding me here. I write: “Taylor Wimpey haven’t engaged Westbourne to liaise with the community, they’re paying them to stitch it up. Part of their strategy appears to be to create a divide between Golden Lane and Barbican residents.” My own view is that Barbican and Golden Lane Estate residents (among others since this also has a massive impact on some other local residents and businesses and users of Fortune Street Park too) should unite to fight against this because they share a common interest. I then add: “…many Barbican residents realise that Taylor Wimpey’s planned development will have a negative impact on them too and everyone who lives or works in the neighbourhood.” You seem to be mixing up what I say Westbourne Communications are trying to do and what I want to do. To clarify, what I want to do is unite Barbican residents with everyone else who is opposed to this development.

      I am well aware of your work with the Bernard Morgan Liaison Group but I do not feel the fight against the development can or should only be carried out under the aegis of this name. With this blog I wish to broaden matters out a bit more which is why it is called Reclaim EC1; as should be clear if you’ve read the About page or the blog on the proposed development of Finsbury Leisure Centre that I posted today. Of course we are working towards the same goal when it comes to stopping the Taylor Wimpey development but that doesn’t mean I need to directly involve myself with the Bernard Morgan Liaison Group. People power works from the bottom up, which means we will all find our own ways of organising even when we have a common goal.

      What would be great is if you can clarify whether or not you were invited to the Taylor Wimpey/Westbourne Communications meeting covered in this post. Your work is appreciated and it is best if we all work towards our shared goals using the methods at which we are best and which are most appropriate for us.

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