In recent days the press have been reporting on Robert Davis as a ‘councillor under fire over ludicrous levels of hospitality’ entailing ’60 visits to the theatre, 10 foreign trips, 296 free meals’. See Westminster councillor received gifts and hospitality 514 times in three years by Robert Booth in The Guardian of 19 February 2018. Davis is deputy head of Westminster City Council and was until recently head of its planning committee, a lot of the gifts and hospitality he received came from property developers.
One of Davis’s former Conservative colleagues on Westminster City Council, Alastair Moss, is currently deputy chair of planning at the neighbouring City of London council. We’re already blogged about some other members of the City Planning Committee including Chris Hayward, James Thomson and ‘Sir’ Michael Bear (who stepped down at the end of last year); potential conflicts of interest relating to these men’s role in the Planning Committee have also been flagged up by The Guardian (see Developers are using culture as a Trojan horse in their planning battles by Anna Minton, The Guardian, 10 October 2017). The current Davis story jogged us into posting a few things here (see below) we’d previously looked up about Alastair Moss and his work for property developers.
This photo of the Territorial Army’s ‘Major’ Alastair Moss – on ‘civvy street’ a property lawyer and City of London councillor – fondling his gun brought to mind Vladimir Putin and various other ‘Eurasian’ leaders who like to project a macho image.
Incidentally, in a follow up piece to the 20 February story about Robert Davis, The Guardian offered the following advice:
…hospitality is not the only tool in the property lobbyist’s box. One of the surest ways to access and influence the officials you seek to influence is to employ people who know local government inside out. Councillors up and down the country are employed in the property lobbying business. They are elected to represent the public interest and at the same time employed by developers seeking to influence the public sphere.
Take one of the scores of firms in this business, which claims to have “won successful planning consents for over 20 years”. It employs numerous local councillors, including one who sits on a council planning committee, as well as prospective and former councillors, plus a former council leader. These people not only understand how decisions are made, but in many cases are the decision-makers themselves. This is valuable for any developer needing council backing.
Besides trying to ensure that elected officials are onside with their clients’ development plans, these planning lobbyists also deal with any resistance from local communities. Developers have a statutory duty on large projects to consult with communities. Consultation, however, in the hands of lobbyists, is a tool that serves to draw out community opposition and provide it with a managed channel through which to voice concerns, but with no hope of tangibly changing the outcome. As the ex-Tesco lobbyist Bernard Hughes explained: “Businesses have to be able to predict risk and gain intelligence on potential problems. The army used to call it reconnaissance; we call it consultation.”
What do developers want from their relationships? It may be straightforward planning permission; or relief from paying a tax used to fund local amenities; or an agreement with the council on the amount of affordable homes the developer has, or doesn’t have, to provide. All of which can be, and is, negotiated by the councils upon which such lavish hospitality is poured.
That the “local lobbying” industry has got away with such practices for so long is no surprise. It lacks the one thing necessary to drive them out – scrutiny. As Davis says in his defence, all his meetings with developers “were all properly declared and open to anyone to examine”. But people need to have a proper look at what is happening in their council. Take a look at the registers of interests to see if any of your councillors double up as lobbyists. Get hold of the registers of hospitality and see if they are taking from the developers they should be overseeing. Use freedom of information law to dig deeper into who is meeting whom, and what they are seeking to do, and then hand the information to your local paper.
Until a light is shone on these relationships they will continue to flourish, and we will continue to get developments that serve no one but the investors and developers.
Find out if your local councillor is being wined and dined by Tamasin Cave, The Guardian, 21 February 2018.
As already mentioned we’ve looked at the declared interests of the likes of Chris Hayward on the City of London Planning Committee, and are now left wondering why this particular council committee has so many members with connections to building and property firms. A significant figure we haven’t mentioned so far in this post as a member of this committee is Mark Boleat, chair of the Housing & Finance Institute, which is also funded by the ultra-undemocratic City of London. Moving on, Alastair Moss includes the following about himself on his LinkedIn profile:
I am a Partner at Memery Crystal, an independent law firm providing high-quality, business-focused advice. We pride ourselves on our commercial awareness, the international scope of our work and the strength of our client relationships. I have 15 years experience of commercial and residential property work and act for investors, banks and occupiers on all aspects of real estate. I am head of the firm’s Real Estate Finance team… I served 12 years as an elected member of Westminster City Council, principally as Chairman of the Planning & City Development Committee.
Beneath is how Moss is profiled as a property lawyer at Memery Crystal:
Alastair applies his extensive expertise to the benefit of his clients. He has practiced as a property lawyer for almost 20 years and combines this with a wealth of other experience such as chairing major planning committees and non-executive property roles, with several billion pounds of UK property held in the entities that he helps to oversee.
His reputation has been won on the basis of his commercial and collaborative approach and his ability to steer transactions to a positive outcome. He is surrounded by a close-knit and skilful team who are as approachable as he is.
Alastair is a well-known figure in the London property scene and as such is always in demand for his views and counsel.
Outside of the office, Alastair undertakes a number of public roles, which he finds immensely rewarding….
Alastair led the team that acquired a large residential development site in West London for Fairview Homes, in joint venture with a major housing provider, London & Quadrant
He acted for Metro Bank plc in the roll-out of prime Central London locations for new bank premises
Alastair advised a developer on the planning and rights of light aspects to a new residential tower on the South Bank
He represented Asda Wal-Mart on the development of several London and South East sites
Alastair managed the Memery Crystal team that has established a new Central London residence for an ultra-high net worth family in Knightsbridge
He assisted Travis Perkins in the management and strategic issues concerning their sites in London
Alastair has acted for a long-standing client in the proposed development of a site in the City fringe for 200 new homes
He acted for a major contractor in the building of a new educational facility in Victoria
Alastair acted for housebuilder Randall Watts in the construction and sale of 250 new flats in the South East
On this blog we’ve already flagged up the issue of public perceptions of probity as regards the Chair of the City of London Planning Committee; the fact Chris Hayward’s deputy Alastair Moss works so closely with developers risks further undermining residential electors confidence in this body. We do not believe any rules have been broken, rather we think the rules should be redrawn.
The following snippet about Alastair Moss can be found on the New London Architecture website: “He is a non-Executive Director of Civitas Social Housing plc and Notting Hill Housing Group an advisor to Bell Pottinger and is a former Chairman of Planning at Westminster City Council.” (https://newlondonarchitecture.org/nla-network/people/speakers/m/alastair-moss). From the Wikipedia entry on Bell Pottinger:
Bell Pottinger Private (legally BPP Communications Ltd.; informally Bell Pottinger) was a British multinational public relations, reputation management and marketing company headquartered in London, United Kingdom. On 12 September 2017 it went into administration (bankruptcy) as a consequence of a scandal caused by some of its activities in South Africa.
Bell Pottinger offered services such as lobbying, speech writing, reputation management, and search engine optimisation to clients including companies, governments and rich individuals. It was the largest UK-based public relations consultancy measured by 2010 fee income. Lord Bell, who advised Margaret Thatcher on media matters, was a co-founder of Bell Pottinger… The firm has been described as having “the most controversial client list” in the PR industry. It has been criticised numerous times for conflict-of-interest edits that the company has made on Wikipedia pages that involve or are about their clients. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the company was hired by the Pentagon to work in Iraq, making fake terror and news-style videos, targeting al-Qaeda, for the reported sum of $540m.
During 2016 and 2017, a sustained ‘dirty campaign’ by the firm came to light, in which it played on racial animosity in South Africa, including the creation of fake news, in order to benefit its client Oakbay Investments, which is controlled by the controversial and influential Gupta family in South Africa and had strong ties to President Zuma’s government. In 2017, the resulting scandal saw the firm disgraced and expelled from its professional body. Chief executive and largest shareholder James Henderson departed, lead partner Victoria Geoghegan was fired and Chime, its second-largest shareholder, wrote off its investment and departed. There was an exodus of major clients and other senior staff…. On 12 September 2017, it was announced that Bell Pottinger had entered administration, with some staff immediately being made redundant
A September 2017 review by law firm Herbert Smith Freehills concluded that the firm had breached ethical standards, lacked appropriate policies for managing controversial accounts, and had brought the PR industry into disrepute, and the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) said the firm had received a “damning indictment”, having breached four of its conduct charter clauses. The firm had previously claimed that the allegations were purely a smear campaign having no truth to them.
As we reported when the Bell Pottinger scandal had broken as a story in the South African press but not internationally, Cascade Communications founded by former Bell Pottinger employees replaced Westbourne Communications as the PR firm deployed as one among a number of elements designed to prevent City of London residents having a democratic say over developments on the site of the former police section house at 43 Golden Lane.
Alastair Moss’s website makes the difference between the spin he puts on his activities at the City of London council and our positions starkly apparent. For example: “Supporting London. I have been proud to have chaired the investment committee of the City Corporation, which gives over £120m per annum to public benefit. This work allows the City to contribute around £20m to charity each year and to be the third largest Arts donor in the UK. If re-elected, I will continue to be a leading custodian of the City’s assets to apply them to public good.” (see http://site.alastairmoss.com/?page_id=134) As we have made clear elsewhere, City artwashing is a propaganda exercise that has a negative impact on London and the world, we do not see it as ‘charity’ or a ‘public benefit’. If Moss really wanted to support London – and indeed the vast mass of people in the world – he’d be adding his voice to calls for the reform and/or abolition of the Corporation of London. What he calls charity is an attempt to give the money-grabbing activities of the rich elite a fig-leaf of respectability; that said much of the income stream that comes out of City’s Cash is quite literally spent on propaganda buttressing an economic system that takes from the vast bulk of humanity – blue and white collar workers alike – in order to make a tiny elite even wealthier.
Westminster councillor received gifts and hospitality 514 times in three years by Robert Booth: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/feb/19/westminster-councillor-received-gifts-and-hospitality-514-times-in-three-years
Full list of Westminster councillor Robert Davis’s 514 freebies: Hospitality, gifts and free trips enjoyed by Robert Davis between January 2015 and January 2018: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/feb/19/full-list-of-westminster-councillor-robert-daviss-514-freebies
Developers are using culture as a Trojan horse in their planning battles by Anna Minton: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/oct/10/developers-culturehousing-luxury-homes-art-artists
Find out if your local councillor is being wined and dined by Tamasin Cave, The Guardian, 21 February 2018: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/feb/21/local-councillors-lobbying-entertainment
Alastair Moss profile: http://www.memerycrystal.com/people/alastair-moss/
Alastair Moss at LinkedIn: https://uk.linkedin.com/in/alastair-moss-3917a216