Is Lambeth Council allowing property developers to fund the salaries of council planning officers who are put to work on fast-tracking a developer’s planning application?
If so, how many developers have bought their way into Lambeth planning? Who are they, what are the developments, and how often were the eventual applications successful?
If Lambeth does not allow developers to buy in, has the council allowed the practice in the past, and may it yet do so in the future?
It’s already happening in London, so these are good questions to put, not to Lambeth councillors but to the council’s Chief Executive, Derrick Anderson.
That’s because according to an unnamed planning officer from a London borough ‘suffering from a spate of towers’, council chief executives ‘will allow schemes to be pumped up as much as they can go before they get political push-back from councillors.’ The worst schemes happen where there is no political resistance at all.
‘Spate of towers’? ‘No political resistance at all’? Remind you of anywhere? Lambeth/Vauxhall Nine Elms and Battersea’s planning free-for-all figures widely in a spine-chilling Guardian article entitled The truth about property developers: how they are exploiting planning authorities and ruining our cities.
The author, Guardian design and architecture critic Oliver Wainwright, argues that property developers have taken over control of London from the banks. He quotes former chief planner of the City of London Peter Rees as saying, ‘Never trust a bank with property, or a property developer with money,’ and ‘We’ve [London] gone from being ruled by Barclays Bank to being controlled by Berkeley Homes.’
Developers, Wainwright argues, are like the banks before them, running riot. They’re botching not the financial system but London itself.
Developers find vast sums are available from the ‘dazzling wealth’ of Russian, and the Middle Eastern investors, and this foreign money is being spent on the ‘wilful destruction’ of the capital. Like the banks, developers too will come unstuck, but the mess they made of London will remain.
Developers get their way through a ‘Faustian pact’, a system ‘not far from legalised bribery’ by which councils get a rake-off under a negotiable levy on agreed developments under Section 106 of the Town & Country Planning Act. The bigger the scheme, the bigger the rake-off.
A whole new industry has now spring up advising developers on how to claw back councils’ S106 rake-off by subsequent negotiations, always secret, to add extra storeys and reduce ‘affordable housing’. That, we know, happens in Lambeth. Any planning officer who dares to argue is denounced as being ‘anti-growth’.
If they don’t get their way, the big developers sidestep the local authority and get the OK from a ‘growth’-mad minister or mayor. Which takes us back to Vauxhall where, argues Wainwright, the then deputy prime minister John Prescott personally approved a Berkeley Homes development, the Vauxhall Tower.
Prescott OK’d the Vauxhall Tower against his own planning inspector’s advice and warnings from ministerial advisers that ‘it could set a precedent for the indiscriminate scattering of very tall buildings across London’. And, it would seem, for the Lambeths of London to rubber-stamp this ‘scattering’ because if the council doesn’t, then the mayor or the minister of the day will, regardless of political affiliation.
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