Henley Howell’s developer links

Guardian Politics is currently leading with a story about the Conservative candidate in Henley – who works with a planning consultancy specialising in with a firm that builds on the greenbelt. This is rather unfortunate for a campaign where greenbelt development is particularly controversial.

Henley byelection: Tory candidate lobbying for planning firm while backing green belt

John Howell, the Conservative candidate in the Henley-on-Thames byelection, is campaigning to keep the green belt while acting as a lobbyist for a planning company that advises housebuilders on contentious land and property deals.

Howell, who is citing fighting development in Oxfordshire’s green belt as one of the key reasons to support him in the byelection on June 26, was accused of “grade-A hypocrisy” by the Liberal Democrats.

Coincidentally, this unfortunate fact also appears on the front of the next Lib Dem newspaper, and electronic copy of which also dropped through the electronic letter box of Lib Dem Voice.

Headed “Conservative campaign in trouble” in giant letters, the leaflet spells out bad days ahead for the Tories.

Mr Howell has close links to Savills Hepher Dixon – a firm that helps developers build on green field and green belt sites.

One local resident said, “It’s been an very unimpressive start from the Conservative candidate. He couldn’t be less like Boris.”

“His campaign has been making claims they can’t justify at all. His leaflets say he is fighting for the green belt, but he seems to have close links to people that want to build on the green belt.”

People across the Henley Constituency are sure to want answers from Mr Howell on all of these issues. One of the most important jobs for our next MP will be to defend our countryside from developers who are queuing up to build here.

The leaflet also quotes directly from a website about John Howell with a paragraph that is still there as I write this:

[John Howell] is a consultant … to Savills Hepher Dixon where he also provides communications and political lobbying consultancy on large and contentious land and property developments.

The bold is their emphasis. Me, I’d have highlighted “large and contentious.” No-one’s ever going to be in favour of someone who advocates for large and contentious development.

One last point about the newspaper – as a nice touch, the back page has a story from Cllr Sue Cooper. Cllr Cooper was to have been the General Election candidate for the Lib Dems in Henley, but as has been explained on these pages in the past, Lib Dem candidate selection rules mean that parliamentary by-elections always trigger a new selection process. The story highlights her campaign for better recycling.

Benson Lib Dem Councillor Sue Cooper said, “When the Lib Dems ran South Oxfordshire District Council, the Council was one of the leading authorities in the country for recycling.”

“It’s sad that the council has slipped down the league table under the Conservatives.”

“We are pressing for more improvements to recycling locally. I strongly encourage local residents to support National Recycling Week.”

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This entry was posted in News and Parliamentary by-elections.
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9 Comments

  • So tell me, which jobs should you do before going into politics?

    This is just pathetic desperation. We all have to earn a living, many politicians of all colours are in PR. Get over it.

  • Oliver Johnson 11th Jun '08 - 8:42pm

    There are very few jobs that one shouldn’t do before becoming a politician – and that is not the thrust of the revelation. PR is probably an advantage in some ways.

    The point is, it is hypocrisy to campaign against green-belt development when one is or has been involved in such development. To point that out is not desperation, but truth – it just so happens to be a truth about a candidate in the party you (Anon.) support, and that the Lib Dems are trying to win a by-election against. It is far more desperate to tell opponents to ‘get over it’, than to state a fact.

  • Councillor Howell has put himself in a position where he has a conflict of interest and duty. The profits he has made from his consultancy work could well be construed as being unauthorised by Oxfordshire County Council and in breach of his fiduciary duty. Even if he has only been consulted with respect to developments outside Oxfordshire, there will always be a risk that the company concerned will wish to carry out developments in Oxfordshire at some point in the future.

    Whose interests does Councillor Howell put first: those of his constituents or those of his clients? That is the question the people of Henley are entitled to ask.

    Perhaps Councillor Howell should read the judgment of the House of Lords in Boardman v Phipps [1967] 2 AC 46 if he fancies staying awake at night. Mr Boardman was required to disgorge his profits.

    (Believe it or not, the year after Boardman lost his appeal, he was elected a Tory MP, and went on to become President of the Board of Trade in Ted Heath’s government; and ended up as Chairman of the Nat West bank. Which tells us a lot about the Tory Party.)

    If you want to keep Oxfordshire green and rural, the last thing you do is vote for John “Boardman” Howell.

  • The point that interests me about this is that Councillor Howell makes no direct mention of his lobbying work for this company in his councillor’s declaration of interests. Putting it in the mildest terms, he could have been much more open about his paid consultancy for Savills.

  • If he hasn’t declared it in his Declaration of Interests at Oxfordshire County Council then it could be a big deal.

  • Cllr Howell’s work for property developers Savills Hepher Dixon is definitely not listed on the online statement of register of interests, which I presume is up to date.

    That document is available here:
    http://portal.oxfordshire.gov.uk/content/publicnet/council_services/about_your_council/councillors/councillors_conduct/howellv4.pdf

    It may be, of course, that Cllr Howell believes that listing his own lobbying/conultancy companies in the register covers his statutory duties. Does anyone know, as a matter of legal fact, whether that would be sufficient?

    I’m sure Cllr Howell cannot have had any intention to pull the wool over the eyes of his constituents, surely. But what is certainly true is that such an arrangement is much more opaque than it could be in informing his constituents for whom he lobbies & when. I think that significant questions remain for Cllr Howell. It would be in his interest to come completely clean on his links with big property developers. Including:
    1. Which “large & contentious” developments has he lobbied for and where are they?
    2. Who has he lobbied? For example, do they include any colleagues on Oxfordshire County Council or Conservative councillors in neighbouring authorities?
    3. He says that he has not lobbied for development on green belt land in Oxfordshire. But has he ever lobbied for or offered consultancy on planning/development on other developments within Oxfordshire? If so, where & when?
    4, Specifically, given that Savills Hepher Dixon clients include a large supermarket chain, has he ever lobbied for large out-of-town shopping developments? The small shopkeepers & their customers in Henley deserve to know before casting their ballots.

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