|Topic:||Westminster's blitz on freebies to restore trust in planning process.|
|Posted by:||Rosco White|
|Shame LBE's Standards Committee (do we even have one?) are on permanent holiday. Anyone for MIPIM? More Towers Vicar? :-|
Westminster council is clamping down on hospitality after admitting accepting “excessive and unnecessary” freebies from planning applicants has become “normalised”.
The local authority’s standards committee said staff and councillors should ideally “retain a distance” from applicants and land owners in order to “maintain trust” in the service.
The new directive comes after the high-profile resignation of councillor Robert Davis who accepted gifts and hospitality 893 times over six years.
These included tickets to West End shows, dinners in top restaurants, and trips to the south of France — and included entertainment provided by property developers.
Mr Davis, formerly deputy leader of the Conservative-run council and, until last year, the chairman of its planning committee, denies any wrongdoing but stepped down on October 10 after a town hall inquiry ruled he had breached the authority’s code of conduct.
The new report, by the council’s monitoring officer Tasnim Shawkat, is set to be discussed at a meeting tonight. It states it would be “good practice” for staff and councillors to keep meetings strictly about planning applications, pre-applications and local plans.
It follows an independent review by the Planning Advisory Service, part of the Local Government Association, which found in October that although there was no impropriety regarding hospitality among staff, their accepting of it from planning applicants was “excessive and unnecessary”.
It also said the way Westminster councillors accepted hospitality was unlike other planning services in the country. Westminster sources said the new rules were to “remind councillors how to behave” as part of a “culture change” needed in the planning department.
The rules say that any gifts or hospitality packages costing more than £25 have to be declared.
Mr Davis had referred himself to the council’s monitoring officer in February, who concluded that he did not act unlawfully but that he had breached the councillors’ code of conduct.
The case prompted a number of internal reviews, resulting in the monitoring officer now calling for members to act with increased caution and rigour.
The report warned councillors to consider how the public would perceive the acceptance of any gifts or hospitality offered.
Adam Hug, opposition leader at Westminster, said he welcomed the “long overdue recognition” that the council’s approach to hospitality was excessive.
The council called the review the start of a “new era of openness”, with further measures “to increase transparency in planning decisions” coming next year.
A spokesman said: “We’ve already made significant changes, opening up our decisions to more scrutiny and making sure all meetings councillors have about planning applications take place in council offices with officers present.”
SOURCE: Evening Standard 6/12/18 - Benedict Moore-Bridger