Thursday, 13 March 2014

How can we be sure cronies are not negotiating SDL section 106 agreements?

I have made no effort to hide that I am concerned by the motives of our council. My concern is that cronies have occupied the entire chain of selection scrutiny over planning or individuals have been selected who will not check through a combination of trust, time and insufficient information.

We have about £1.3 billion pound of planning profit tied up in the SDL's and that is a big reason for land owning trusts and developers to make sure the right people control the planning process.

Question 1. How much planing permission profit (land value change with planning permission) should a developer / land owner be allowed to keep?

Question 2. What level of planning permission profit would be enough to generate a market for cronies in occupy enough positions in the council to have complete control of contracts?

Luckily, we are in the UK and have a policy of public transparency. Effectively ensuring their is a risk of discovery from cronies in politics. Unfortunately councils all over the UK have started to use 'Commercial confidentiality' on everything as an acceptable reason to hide their deals and Wokingham is no exception.

I recently made a Freedom of information request for the average S106 contribution per dwelling for each of the SDL's components and details of how we ensure that the negotiations scrutinized suitably.

My mission is to ensure that they are not conducted by people who are working for the developers and are not scrutinized by the same or well nurtured people who lack the information / time to perform their oversight with due diligence.

Given the inability of us to trace money from various sources the only evidence we have is the profitability allowed and over and above the cost of compulsory purchases and selling the plots with planning. Given that the choice to develop is theoretically a national requirement the

History of Council behavior unsuitable for a council.

My first concerns came from hear say stories and reports of Cllrs for sale in the media.

I was then concerned by anecdotal reports that public meetings had things said that were not included in the minutes (including Elm's field back in 2006).

To test that theory I decided to film public meetings, only to find that a particular elected Councillor Keith Baker was blocking filming. Breaking his code of conduct for and democratic services do nothing.

Cllr Baker used various reasons easily overcome excuses and eventually lied twice. 1 Regarding offering me to tender for the job of filming and 2. Having a 1 person objects / no filming policy. On challenging this with Wokingham Times included he threatened to sue me, so I gave him the evidence,.

This concerns me as to his suitability as a representative of the people and not developers, or being mistaken in such a way that would lead me to be concerned as to his capability as executive for planning and highways.

After guidance from Eric Pickles and my own insistence that blocking filming would be met with a citizen arrest, allowed to under very strict conditions that would allow vested interests to block filming, finally, after further negotiation and clarification we came to an acceptable version designed to limit disturbance and give the council a way out if their was an extreme. They however maintained the ability to control the records of planning and scrutiny meetings by blocking them from being filmed.

So I asked them about that in an executive meeting. For which the answer was one concern over exposure to the unknown and that in one year time it will be reviewed. To which I expressed that those in support of blocking filming are in breach of their code of conduct as Councillors. This was not denied.

One rule was not to move the camera. Which my colleague did between two sections of the first executive meeting filmed so that those asking questions and answering could be filmed at the beginning, and then the full executive in the second half.

Disturbingly this camera movement, though completely justifiable and met with logic and agreement before the Cllrs arrive was met with childlike unreasonable obsession by a few of them after the camera had stopped "What is important is the rules" was the line from Executive Andy Couldrick.

What about the rule that council is required to support transparency unless clearly in the public interest not to do so?

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