Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 45-59)



  Q45 Chairman: Welcome to the Committee. Thank you for coming. For the purposes of our records, could you identify yourselves, please?

  Cllr Dennis: I am Councillor Adrian Dennis, from the London Borough of Croydon.

  Mr Babb: Peter Babb, Manchester City Council.

  Q46 Chairman: Thank you for that. Is there anything you would like to say by way of introduction, or are you happy to go straight to questions?

  Mr Babb: We are happy to go straight to questions.

  Q47 Chairman: Councillor Dennis, I think probably you might have expected that your evidence and appearance before us has caused some degree of interest. Could I begin by putting the point to you that much of your evidence is based around one particular development and your concerns over some conflict of interest that might have been involved there. Given that we have had an independent investigation, an independent report, about that issue, that Sir Stuart Lipton is no longer the Chairman of CABE and CABE says they have acted on the recommendations of the report, is it not time now to draw a line under that and move on and look at how we go into the future?

  Cllr Dennis: I am afraid not. That particular site in question, it is called the Gateway site, drew my attention to conflicts of interest which existed on CABE, which I was not aware of before. It has raised issues, I think, of probity and the way that CABE operates. It is perceived as a public body. Maybe that is what it is.

  Q48 Chairman: "Operates" or operated, we had better be clear about this, because CABE says it has moved on, taking account of the recommendation in the report?

  Cllr Dennis: The fact that the Chairman has gone has not changed anything. There is still a very large proportion of the CABE Commissioners associated with one particular company, and I expect, if you looked at other development interests, there would be again a number of conflicting interests. Also I feel that there are issues which have happened since which have further connections among the Commissioners with that particular company, Stanhope, and the way that the members of the Commission do not fully appreciate their role as a public body, that they cannot carry on acting as independent architects and architectural journalists expressing strong views, promoting a particular development, when they are actually commenting on the design of that development.

  Q49 Sir Paul Beresford: Councillor, if Croydon Council applied to itself for planning permission, there would be these Chinese walls, etc., yes?

  Cllr Dennis: Yes.

  Q50 Sir Paul Beresford: Thank you. The same applies to CABE, and in fact there was an audit investigation and the summary of the audit was essentially that these principles, the Nolan Principles, had been applied by CABE, and the majority, if not all, of the recommendations, as I read them, were really on making sure that the public outside could see that this actually applied. Am I right?

  Cllr Dennis: Certainly there are very strong recommendations there which must be applied, in my view. I am not sure that they have been yet.

  Q51 Sir Paul Beresford: What bothers me, with your report to the Committee, is that, in fact, there is a conflict of interest. You personally wish the scheme preferred by Croydon, and I think it is called the Arrowcroft scheme, to go ahead, but Croydon Council do not own the land, the land is owned by the people who are putting forward the Gateway site, the Gateway Partnership?

  Cllr Dennis: That is not entirely true. We are talking about slightly different sites. The Arrowcroft scheme, which does have the support of the Council, includes land which currently the Council owns, it would be about 11% of the total site area. The Stanhope/Schroders claim to own the site, my understanding is that they own about 12%, or so, and have options on quite a lot of the rest. My terminology might be incorrect, about calling it an option, but they have some sort of contractual arrangements where they can take ownership should they get permission.

  Q52 Sir Paul Beresford: I understand that actually they own 100%, apart from the 11% you are talking about, but you are talking about a bigger scheme?

  Cllr Dennis: That is not my understanding and it is not the understanding that we were given by their solicitors, who happen to be CABE's solicitors, only in September.

  Q53 Sir Paul Beresford: For Croydon Council to go ahead, they are going to need to purchase the land compulsorily?

  Cllr Dennis: Yes.

  Q54 Sir Paul Beresford: My difficulty is that I see this has become a personal battle between you and one or two people on CABE. Sir Stuart Lipton, until he departed, is a classic example of someone that you really have a personal battle with?

  Cllr Dennis: Not really. I have a problem with the way they operate. In fact, we were very pleased that Stuart Lipton, in his first years as Chairman, actually came to Croydon and presented the Croydon Design Awards with myself. We have the greatest regard for CABE in many respects and think they do really good work, in terms of promoting improvement of design. Yes, I did have an issue with the way that they bypassed the planning system and went straight to an inquiry with a development which we had not seen before. They managed, quite cleverly, to find their way to get a planning application straight to a public inquiry without it having been submitted as an application, by replacing an application which existed already.

  Q55 Sir Paul Beresford: I just happen to have been given the Croydon Gateway report that you gave to your Labour group. It is quite abusive, it is personally abusive. I find it quite extraordinary.

  Cllr Dennis: I am not quite sure which report you mean.

  Q56 Sir Paul Beresford: It is the report that went to the Labour group on 5 February this year and it says: "These so-called blue-chip developers have acted like irritable children when their toy has been snatched from them, whining and screaming to the press and anyone else who will listen." Then it goes on to name a number of individuals, including Sir Stuart, but naming him with a rather abusive phrase, which I will not use, and others that have resisted or not agreed with you also get abusive names applied to them?

  Cllr Dennis: You would call it abusive. If you like, I was putting a light touch to the report to my members about what happened at a public inquiry and the actual results, which was confusing for many people who are not familiar with planning reports. I made an interpretation and expressed, in fact, what was the real outcome of that inquiry.

  Q57 Sir Paul Beresford: Calling one of the individuals, that I have not named, "Mr Slime" and another one "Mr Dud" does sound as though you—

  Cllr Dennis: You are referring to an internal, political report and you are referring to some references which are sort of jokes between the two political parties on the Council.

  Q58 Sir Paul Beresford: Then it comes back to the situation that if this particular organisation, the Gateway Partnership, put in an application really they are wasting their time, are they not?

  Cllr Dennis: We are still talking to them. We have actually had a meeting, certainly within the last two weeks, whether it was last week or the week before I am not sure, and I believe there is a further meeting next week. We are still negotiating and trying to get a resolution to this problem because we do not want to be at loggerheads with Stanhope/Schroders. There is a potential solution between themselves and if they were able to discuss a development jointly with Arrowcroft which satisfied everyone, but we do have a policy of providing a mixed-use development based on an Arena scheme. They are moving now a little way towards that but there are still opportunities maybe for their consultants and our consultants to go into a locked room and sort themselves out.

  Q59 Sir Paul Beresford: You are in a position where, certainly by the paper, you have got some personal difficulties with individuals, you want an Arena on the schemes and really you want Arrowcroft to do the development, so that, in essence, anyone else putting in an application, including the people that own the land, is wasting their time?

  Cllr Dennis: We sought for a long time the development for that site with the landowners. That never happened. The site has been empty for 40 years. There were conflicts between the landowners. We made every effort, we brought in master planners to try to find a solution and we then looked for a development partner, it turned out it was Arrowcroft. They have put in a planning application which complies with our policies and our development plan and we have made a resolution to grant permission for that.

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