In recent weeks there has been outrage in the City of London’s Cripplegate ward over Mark Boleat’s report for the Housing & Finance Institute (HFI) entitled The Housing Problem in London: A Broken Planning System. Before getting into why the City of London council backs the HFI to the tune of £40,000 a year, and the ramifications of the fact that according to the minutes current council boss Catherine McGuinness attended the meeting at which this was agreed, let’s get an overview of the scandal so far. To date and as reflected in the coverage given to it by local free sheet City Matters, anger has been directed at the report author (also the HFI chairman), rather than the whole network of City figures supporting this lobby group for developers:
A city residents group has demanded the resignation of Common councillor and former Corporation policy chief Sir Mark Boleat after he claimed that scaling back the influence of residents in the planning system could solve London’s housing crisis.
Sir Mark made the comments as part of a new report from the Housing & Finance Institute calling for a radical overhaul of what he called “a deeply flawed” planning system… Local members would be able to speak on behalf of residents at planning meetings, but not vote on decisions among a raft of radical changes…
But the Golden Lane Estate Residents Association (GLERA) has accused Sir Mark of trying to lock local communities and their representatives out of the planning process altogether.
“He has such open contempt for local democracy and communities that we consider his views are no longer compatible with his role as a Common Councilman,” GLERA spokesperson Charles Humphries said.
“Mark has demonstrated his readiness to ignore planning policies and push through large schemes that favour developers and house builders.
“We are calling for his resignation.”…
“If Sir Mark has so little time for the role of local councillors in standing up to development plans that bulldoze planning policies and communities then perhaps it is time he resigned from the City of London planning committee,” he said….
The City Corporation said they did not wish to comment on the report.
City residents blast councillor for housing blame game by Jo Davy, City Matters, 25 October 2017.
Mark Boleat, poster boy for a property developer and City of London council backed plan to destroy local democracy. So Never Mind The Boleats, Catherine McGuinness Must Go Too!
After this piece in City Matters and other indications of resident fury in the Cripplegate ward, local councillors quickly followed the lead of those they represented:
Common council members have joined a chorus of criticism against their peer and former Corporation policy chief Sir Mark Boleat over his claims that scaling back the influence of elected representatives in the planning system could solve London’s housing crisis.
Cripplegate councillors have said they are “deeply disappointed” with Sir Mark’s comments in a report for the Housing & Finance Institute, which proposes to exclude local elected members from voting on planning applications to remove “bias towards development”.
Planning committee member Mark Bostock was among several to speak out against the recommendations, calling them “totally unacceptable” and at odds with basic principles of local democracy.
The report suggests appointing expert panels to interpret local planning policies and decide on applications. Local councillors would be able to address the panel on behalf of their constituents, but not vote….
“I am one of the newly elected members [on the planning committee] and there have been three or four quite significant planning applications that have come before us and I have to say I think he’s wrong – we are all highly responsible people,” he (Mark Bostock) said. “The idea of excluding residents and their [voted] representation is totally unacceptable.”
The report made waves in the Cripplegate ward, which is home to about a third of the City’s 7,500 residents… The Golden Lane Estate Residents’ Association (GLERA) last week called for Sir Mark to resign from the local authority, saying his views were “no longer compatible with his role as a Common Councilman”.
Councillor William Pimlott said the report demonstrates “a contempt for local democracy” and that residents should have as much a say through their local representatives as those elected.
“Local residents are in favour of the development of affordable housing, and especially of social housing, but not when it risks irresponsibly damaging existing housing and is not affordable at all.”
He added: “If property executives, or those associated with the housing development industry are allowed to vote, then surely local representatives ought to be able to too.”
Mary Durcan, another Cripplegate councillor, agreed resident participation is “essential in a democratic society” and said she would strongly oppose any change to the system.
Councillors cry foul over planning report by Tom Oxtoby, City Matters, 1 November 2017.
It is hardly surprising that the City of London council are reported in the local press as not wanting to comment on Boleat’s report (see above), since they are probably hoping residents in their borough won’t realise that they fund the Housing & Finance Institute that issued it; it is also not unreasonable to conclude they are in at least rough agreement with Boleat’s views, since they are paying for their propagation. Disgust about this blatant attack on democracy should be directed at the whole of the City of London establishment who are enmeshed in and with the Housing & Finance Institute. Boleat is not the only former council head to sit on the HFI board; he’s there with Judith Mayhew Jonas, who was chair of the City of London Policy and Resources Committee between 1996 and 2003.
James Michael Douglas Thomson (left) may find that getting himself re-elected as a councillor for Walbrook ward in spring 2017 on 113 business votes (that’s the total number of votes he got, NOT his majority) was unlucky and in the words of his nineteenth-century namesake he might end up lost in The City of Dreadful Night.
Another common councilman on the HFI board is James Thomson, who has also had top jobs at Keepmoat, a construction firm which alongside the City of London was a founding member of the HFI. Keepmoat have lucrative contracts with the City of London; Thomson lists the refurbishment of the Corporation owned Great Arthur House social housing block in the Cripplegate ward on his register of interests as a councillor, but hasn’t got around to adding that he’s on the HFI board. We’re still waiting to see if Thomson responds to The Guardian noting with regard to his role in the approval of Taylor Wimpey’s The Denizen development, that he ‘was formerly deputy chief financial officer and chief operations officer of Cushman and Wakefield, commercial property and real estate consultants, which marketed and sold Bernard Morgan House to Taylor Wimpey‘ (Guardian 10 October 2017). So we won’t hold our breath waiting for Thomson to explain how he sees his role at the HFI fitting in with his work on the City of London Planning and Transportation Committee.
As an aside, the HFI was set by the Cameron–Clegg coalition government and based on a review conducted by Natalie Elphicke and Keith House; but even if the HFI originated outside the City of London’s orbit, it is now well within it. That said, even before the review that led to the HFI being set up, Natalie Elphicke and her husband Charlie had ties to the City of London including involvement in the Cities of London and Westminster Conservative Association. Charlie Elphicke was deputy chairman of this particular Conservative Association from 2002 to 2006. Likewise, the Tory MP for the Cities of London and Westminster Mark Field has been a brother-in-law to Charlie Elphicke since his marriage to Victoria Elphicke a decade or so ago.
Catherine McGUINNESS MUST GO!
We’ll now look at the 24th September 2015 City of London Policy and Resources Committee meeting, which approved this council giving funding to the Housing & Finance Institute. Among those present were Mark Boleat (City of London boss at the time and one of those who controversially voted in favour of planning permission for Taylor Wimpey’s The Denizen – going back to the 2015 decision, he declared an interest in that he was up for a job with the HFI) and Catherine McGuinness (City of London boss now); as well as two more men who voted to give The Denizen planning permission, viz Robert Picton Seymour Howard AKA Robert Howard and James Henry George Pollard AKA Henry Pollard. Given the ideological orientation of the HFI, surely there are questions to be asked about the suitability of those who’ve provided it with financial and political support to make planning decisions on developments such as Taylor Wimpey’s The Denizen? Minutes from the City of London meeting at which funding the HFI was approved read as follows:
Housing and Finance Institute. Meeting of Policy and Resources Committee, Thursday, 24th September, 2015 1.45 pm (Item 8.) Report of the Town Clerk. Minutes:
The Committee considered a report of the Town Clerk proposing that the City Corporation becomes a founding member of the Housing & Finance Institute.
RESOLVED – That:-
approval be given to the City of London Corporation becoming a founding member of the Housing & Finance Institute (HFI) at the cost of £40,000 per annum for 2015/16, 2016/17 and 2017/18, to be met from the Policy Initiatives Fund categorised under the New Areas of Work section and charged to City’s Cash; and
authority be delegated to the Town Clerk to enter into membership of the HFI on such terms as considered appropriate.
Some construction companies funded the HFI alongside the City of London, but as Boleat’s report illustrates, members of the local authority in question also played a key role in developing this institute’s extremist anti-democratic ideology. Boleat’s attack on democracy can – and in our opinion should – be understood as the City of London attempting to push its oligarchical structure into local politics throughout the British Isles. While the business vote has been abolished in the rest of the UK, it still decides the balance of power on the City of London council, robbing residents in the borough of a proper voice in local politics. The anti-democratic programme being floated by Boleat via the HFI appears to be part of an attempt by the City of London to foil ongoing campaigns for the reform local politics in this rotten borough; here they take the form of a counter attack aimed at depriving people of proper local political representation way beyond this particular authority’s boundaries.
GLERA calling for Mark Boleat to resign represents a start to dealing with this scandal, but it is not enough! All those with a seat on the City of London council who aren’t prepared to defend democracy from Boleat’s attacks on it should go immediately; although whether any will agree to resign is a moot point. That said, as the most prominent ‘face’ right now on a local council that has financially supported the Housing & Finance Institute, it is Catherine McGuinness who should be the focus of our disquiet. And so our most immediate demand is: “McGUINNESS MUST GO!”
The header shows an aerial view of anti-democracy and anti-Occupy Central thugs attacking pro-democracy activists at Occupy Mong Kok on 3 October 2014 in Hong Kong. The disorderly anti-democracy reactionaries are at the left and bottom, while the peaceful pro-democracy elements are at the right and top. To see footage of this go to: https://youtu.be/RK1n6A0cNK8
City residents blast councillor for housing blame game by Jo Davy: http://www.citymatters.london/city-residents-blast-mark-boleat-housing-blame-game/
Councillors cry foul over planning report by Tom Oxtoby: http://www.citymatters.london/councillors-mark-boleat-planning-report/
Anna Minton at The Guardian on possible conflicts of interest relating to James Thomson (and Christopher Hayward and Sir Michael Bear) in relation to Taylor Wimpey and the granting of planning permission for The Denizen development on the corner of Golden Lane and Fann Street: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/oct/10/developers-culturehousing-luxury-homes-art-artist
For details of the City of London Policy and Resources Committee meeting of 24th September, 2015 at which Housing & Finance Institute funding was agreed see: http://democracy.cityoflondon.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=395&MId=16691&Ver=4 and http://democracy.cityoflondon.gov.uk/mgAi.aspx?ID=41508
Companies House records showing the appointment of Mark John Boleat, James Michael Douglas Thomson and Judith Charles Mayhew Jonas (among others) as directors of the Housing & Finance Institute on 7 December 2015: https://beta.companieshouse.gov.uk/company/09655497/filing-history
Fuller list of those present at 24th September 2015 City of London Policy and Resources Committee, which approved funding for the Housing & Finance Institute (based on council minutes): Mark Boleat, Jeremy Mayhew, Catherine McGuinness, Hugh Fenton Morris, John Bennett, Roger Arthur Holden Chadwick, Alexander John Cameron Deane, William Harry Dove, Simon D’Olier Duckworth, Jeffrey Evans, Stuart John Fraser, Marianne Bernadette Fredericks, Robert Picton Seymour Howard, Wendy Hyde, Vivienne, Edward Lord, Wendy Mead, Joyce Carruthers Nash, Dhruv Patel, James Henry George Pollard, Jeremy Lewis Simons, John Tomlinson, Michael Welbank, David Hugh Wootton.
Incidentally, as a way of rubbing salt into the wounds of Cripplegate residents who were already angry about both Taylor Wimpey’s The Denizen being given planning approval and Boleat’s report, the Housing & Finance Institute officially launched their chairman’s The Housing Problem in London: A Broken Planning System on 31 October 2017 at Savills HQ, 33 Margaret St, London, W1G 0JD. Savills are – alongside Knight Frank – the agents marketing The Denizen for Taylor Wimpey; and they are hard selling this Cripplegate development off-plan to buy to leave ghost home investors in South East Asia. The Denizen will contribute to London’s housing crisis by replacing 110 social housing units with luxury apartments that won’t be lived in and that local people, who desperately need homes, can’t afford.
Keith House (left) and Natalie Elphicke (centre, shortest person) of the Housing & Finance Institute, with representatives from Keepmoat and Barratts on a Newcastle building site, July 2014.