Southwark Lib Dems, Ministry of Sound, Oakmayne, and the BBC: the story continues…

A couple of weeks ago I reported here on the controversy surrounding a planning application in Southwark, objected to by the Ministry of Sound, a donor to the local Lib Dems.

The BBC’s coverage of the story felt partial, fixated on alleging ‘no smoke without fire’ political sleaze, failing to question whether they were being played by property developers looking to overturn a decision they didn’t like.

The Corporation has now returned to the story: Lib Dems warned over Ministry of Sound donations. (Ironically the article’s by Ed Davey. I assume not that one.)

This is the over-hyped headline to accompany the somewhat mundane reality: that the Lib Dem councillors who voted on the planning application were advised by the borough solicitor to consider ‘whether they can approach this with a completely open mind and judge it on its merits irrespective of consequences for their party’s funding… If they believe they can then they can legitimately take part in the committee. If they think this issue will impact on their decision, they should stand down.’ I think that’s called advice rather than a warning.

The BBC then gives generous space to quotes from the chairman of the property company whose application was rejected — who unsurprisingly is unenamoured by Southwark Lib Dems.

Only towards the end of its report does the BBC recognise there might be a second side to the story, and note that the Ministry of Sound is also unhappy at the planning process followed, and specifically the close relationship between the property company and Southwark council officials:

It has said it is concerned that former Southwark Council employees advised Oakmayne’s bid. The club said these included the former leader of the council Jeremy Fraser and a former project manager for the Elephant and Castle area. One of the architects involved is chairman of the council’s design review panel, which examines potential developments in the borough. In an official complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman, also obtained by BBC London, Ministry of Sound’s Lohan Presencer said: “This is not conducive to fair decision-making. An extremely close relationship exists between the council and developers, particularly Oakmayne.”

To be clear, based on what I’ve read (third-hand media reports only) there is no reason to believe impropriety from any of the players in this story. The BBC is right to probe and to ask questions: that is journalists’ job.

But what I dislike about Ed Davey’s report (and the earlier anonymous BBC report) is that the media would much prefer to assume political corruption, and will happily fling innuendo around — and leave alone the tougher job of asking questions of the motivations of others.

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  • In planning meetings I have always erred on the side of caution. I haven’t seen the minutes of this meeting, but if I was in their shoes I would of declared a personal interest, explained why and most importantly said I was of an open mind. I could then remain in the meeting speak and vote.

    I have done this many times including on a call-in to a scrutiny meeting where I took advice and in the meeting said despite calling this decision in I am of an open mind. I did also accuse the Tory group of having a private group meeting before hand and questioned if they were of an open mind as required by the constitution (they didn’t like that)

  • Local resident 22nd Nov '11 - 8:02am

    I have three comments

    1. Correct disclosure
    Lloyd is quite correct. When you sit in judgement over others, you ought to err on the side of caution when you are aware you have an interest that might be misinterpreted. In this case the planning committee members were aware of the potential embarrassment and chose to hide it. The question of why they chose to hide it remains unanswered but the consequence is that the level of public trust in those members is now diminished. They only have themselves to blame for that.

    Relationship to Council officers
    You say in your blog “Only towards the end of its report does the BBC recognise there might be a second side to the story, and note that the Ministry of Sound is also unhappy at the planning process followed, and specifically the close relationship between the property company and Southwark council officials”. You omit to refer to the fact that any advisors to the property developer are former council officers. The previous jobs of those involved is very well known.

    The Lib Dem Christmas party
    We don’t all believe all we read in the Daily Mail, but is there any truth to this report that this year’s Lib Dem Christmas Party will be held at the Ministry of Sound? The report says the space will be loaned – presumably without charge. If this Is true, is this also something the planning committee members and all those from the party who speak on behalf of the Ministry of Sound should feel it correct not to declare?

    It is unlikely that the planning committee members were influenced by the relationship between the Lib Dems and the Ministry of Sound. But you cannot deny the public are more likely to believe in their propriety if they are open and honest about what any reasonable person would believe to be a significant link. Looking back at this, I think they have cause for regret.

  • Tony Greaves 22nd Nov '11 - 4:41pm

    The last poster is obviously an apologist for the developers. Or how about he declares his interests (political and otherwise?)

    The Localism Act significantly changes all this and gives Councillors much greater freedom to represent their constituents.

    Tony Greaves

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