Joint report of the Town Clerk, the Interim Chief Planning Officer and Development Director and the Comptroller and City Solicitor.
The Committee considered a joint report of the Town Clerk, the Interim Chief Planning Officer and Development Director and the Comptroller and City Solicitor concerning the establishment of a special sub-committee to consider a forthcoming planning application by the City of London Corporation involving a significant area of public highway and therefore engaging the restrictions in Regulation 10 of the Town and Country Planning General Regulations 1992 by reason of the Committee’s responsibility for public highway.
The Town Clerk reminded the meeting that those Members who had declared relevant interests in this item at agenda Item 2 would not be able to participate by either speaking or voting.
A Member spoke to state that she understood that the site in question was owned by the City of London (City Fund - freehold and leasehold) and noted that, although the Property Investment Board was a non local authority committee, its role was to manage the organisation’s property investment portfolio and to encourage development in the City of London. She therefore questioned whether the City’s management of the site and members of the Property Investment Board who managed its investments and also sat on this Committee also created a conflict of interests, what the public perception of this might be and whether this could lead to challenge further down the line.
Another Member commented that one of the headlines of the Lisvane Governance Review was that the City Corporation already has too many Committees, Sub-Committees, Consultative bodies etc. He suggested that it therefore seemed counter intuitive that Members were being encouraged to recommend yet another Sub-Committee and, further down the line, another four Sub-Committees in the form of Planning Panels – a proposal set to be considered by the Court of Common Council in the coming months. The Member stated that he felt that there was something particularly odd about this proposed Sub-Committee as the plan was that the full Committee meet as scheduled on the morning of 22 April and that, at the conclusion of this meeting, a number of Members leave with the remainder then adopting different hats to form part of the Special Sub-Committee to decide a planning application that would normally be decided upon by the full Committee. He commented that this would appear unintelligible to the public and those outside of the organisation and stated that he believed that these contortions were required to preserve the ability of a small group of Members to continue to be able to sit on some of the more ‘important’ Committees simultaneously (in this case the Capital Buildings Committee and the Planning Committee). He added that the public were of the view that this gave rise to a perception of bias and highlighted that a petition signed by over 1,200 people saying just this had been lodged earlier this morning. The Member went on to state that, in case anyone were to object to the fact that these proposed procedural ‘somersaults’ would result in the seven members of this Committee and the Capital Buildings Committee not participating in the planning decision – this was only by accident as it just so happened that this application included significant public realm and highway works and it also just so happened that this Committee had such matters within its Terms of Reference. This combination of circumstances meant that the strictures of legislation, as interpreted by a high Court case last Autumn, meant that this could not be avoided and that those members were prevented by law from participating in the planning decision. If, however, this application had not included significant public realm and highway works, the report inferred that all Members of this grand Committee would have been able to participate regardless of any public perception. The Member concluded by stating that he felt that this report therefore demonstrated how unfit for purpose the City’s current planning process was. The Member stated that he would not be opposing the recommendations set out within the report but that his vote in favour would be based on pragmatism and not principle.
Another Member spoke to make the point that the application in question did not involve an investment property and did not therefore fall within the remit of the Property Investment Board. He added that he and other members of the Property Investment Board who also sat on this Committee were already well aware of this and that the point raised by the Member was therefore of no relevance.
The Comptroller and City Solicitor responded to the various points made by stating that, as set out within the report, what Regulation 10 required was to avoid any conflict of interest between those who are deciding the application and those who are bringing forward the proposals. Members were informed that this obviously had to be applied to the local authority situation and the Comptroller and City Solicitor commented that it was not unusual for all tiers of an authority to have been involved in an application or the principle of funding of an application at various stages of a development. She added that the Court of Common Council itself had been involved in this particular application at a very early stage but stated that the organisation had to take an approach that allowed for some flexibility but was also sufficiently robust. With this in mind, Officers had turned their minds to identifying who could be considered as having promoted the application to date – this had been determined to be the Capital Buildings Committee with the Police Authority Board also having a clear, vested interest. She concluded by stating that interpreting things too widely hindered the ability of the local authority to function properly and to take any decisions on its own planning applications which was expressly provided for in law.
RESOLVED – That the Planning and Transportation Committee:
1. Adopt the Handling Note in the Appendix to this Report.
2. Establish a Special Sub-committee with the following Terms of Reference: to determine planning application reference: 20/00997/FULEIA and associated Listed Building Consent applications ref: 20/00998/LBC and 20/00996/LBC.
3. That the Special Sub-committee sits at the rising of the Planning and transportation on 22 April 2021.
4. That the Special Sub-committee be constituted of all Members of Planning and Transportation Committee other than those who are also Members of Capital Buildings Committee and Police Authority Board.