Saturday 17 March 2012

H&F Council's Dubious Planning Protocol Is Used To Block Social Housing

Residents want to know what is H&F Council's Conservative
Administration agreeing with property speculators?
Imagine government passing a law that said judges won’t be able to see critical information pertinent to a case unless it was okayed by a senior government official. That would never happen in Britain right?... Er, wrong.  Sadly, that’s sort of what now happens in the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham on the quasi-judicial Planning Applications Committee (PAC).

A disgraceful mechanism was agreed on the 9th November last year by all of the ruling majority Conservative Councillors on the PAC. It is mostly used to stop Opposition Labour Councillors easily seeing the financial modelling (known as the Three Dragons) that property speculators and H&F Council use to explain why they remove all genuinely affordable homes from all major housing schemes in the Borough.

What’s worse is the local government officials who decide whether councillors, on the PAC, can see the financial modelling are usually the very same officials who have negotiated the controversial secret deals with property speculators.

The Conservatives argue that this new approach is necessary to protect commercially sensitive information. However, all of the other committees on H&F Council have the facility to have a closed session at the end of meetings (with no public or press present) where sensitive details can be viewed and openly discussed by those charged with making the decision. The Conservative members of the PAC rejected this and voted for a far more draconian and limiting scheme instead.

There is much to be concerned about when it comes to the Administration’s approach to building large landscape changing property schemes in our Borough. If ever I write to senior officials to ask for details of the dozens of secret meetings officials and Administration Conservative Councillors often have with property speculators I get very little back. Officials responds saying they set no agenda, kept no minutes and say they only have vague recollections about what may have been said or agreed. 

This video released by the Conservative Administration on 22nd April 2008 speaks for itself really - particularly where H&F Council's voice over tells us “Our planning policies are changing to attract development and to remove the uncertainty around planning applications.” 

In recent months we have seen plenty of "uncertainty around planning applications" removed with the St. George’s Fulham Reach development, the Hammersmith Town Hall development and the Shepherds Bush Market development being just three of the many schemes lately voted through. In the last five years we’ve seen many, many, many more which were always block voted through against the wishes of thousands of local residents.

One resident who witnessed the shenanigans around a recent scheme put her views very simply.“It stinks” she said referring to everything she'd seen about H&F Council’s approach. I think many more local residents have reached exactly the same conclusion. 

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