Want to influence Pickles on a Plannning Application – just buy him a ‘private’ supper


The Bureau of Investigative Journalism

The local government secretary, Eric Pickles, attended a dinner with lobbyists and business chiefs at a five-star hotel in London but did not feel obliged to declare it due to a ‘gaping loophole’ in transparency rules.

An investigation by the Bureau with the Sunday Times has revealed how ministers are able to sidestep rules on declaring hospitality by saying they attended events in a ‘private’ capacity.

The dinner attended by Pickles at the Savoy in February was hosted by the lobbying firm Bell Pottinger. It was also attended by Brandon O’Reilly, chief executive of Farnborough airport, who at the time was awaiting a decision by Pickles’s Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) and the Department for Transport (DfT) on an application to almost double the capacity of the airport.

The ministerial code was updated last year to improve the openness of government. It obliges ministers to declare all hospitality accepted in a ‘ministerial capacity’ and all meetings with external organisations. The information should be published quarterly.

A spokesman for Pickles said he was not required to register the dinner because he had attended in a ‘private’ and not a ‘ministerial’ capacity.

He was unable to say whether Pickles had travelled to the dinner in his ministerial car. ‘We are not sure, we don’t hold the records.’

Bell Pottinger Public Affairs was appointed by TAG Farnborough Airport in 2008 to advise on its proposal to increase the number of flights at the airport to 50,000 a year. The plan was rejected by Rushmoor borough council in Hampshire but was referred to central government after an appeal and planning inquiry.

Opponents included Michael Gove, the education secretary, whose Surrey Heath constituency is under the Farnborough flight path.

The Savoy dinner was held on February 1 and the airport’s expansion plans were jointly approvedby the DCLG and DfT on February 10.

Guidance from Pickles’s own department states that planning ministers are ‘strongly advised’ to decline requests for meetings from interested parties during a planning appeal.

Pickles’s attendance at the dinner in the Savoy’s Gondoliers Room emerged in a blog posted by Peter Bingle, chairman of Bell Pottinger Public Affairs.

‘The discussion must remain private but I can reveal that the guests were more than just impressed,’ he wrote.

There were 22 people at the dinner, including Damian West, the director of strategy and planning at Southern Cross Healthcare, the care home operator which collapsed in July.

Daniel Levy, the chairman of Tottenham Hotspur, Roger Mountford, the chairman of the port of Dover, and a senior executive from Berkeley Group, a housing developer, were also present.

A spokesman for Pickles said the cabinet minister attended the dinner in a ‘private’ capacity and that it was ‘malicious to suggest any impropriety’. Pickles did not speak to O’Reilly at the dinner or discuss the airport, he said.

The decision on Farnborough’s expansion was taken by Bob Neill, a planning minister, and not Pickles, he added.

A spokesman for the DCLG said Pickles had ‘met the requirements of the ministerial code’.

Sarah Clayton, of the campaigning group Airport Watch, said: ‘Had Mr Pickles met privately with environmental campaigners a week before the application, and had it been refused nine days later, all hell would have broken loose.’

According to the Cabinet Office, ministers decide for themselves whether a meeting or hospitality is private or ministerial business, depending on what is talked about.

The spokesman for Pickles said there had been a ‘political chat about the political landscape’ at the dinner.

Lord Bell, who heads Bell Pottinger, said ‘no specific commercial issue about Farnborough or anything else was discussed’.

However, Sir Alistair Graham, former chairman of the committee on standards in public life, said the dinner exposed a ‘gaping loophole’ in the code, and Tamasin Cave, spokeswoman for the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency, said: ‘What Pickles means by ‘private’ is in fact ‘secret’.’

Meanwhile, w4mp.org, a website that provides information and advice for MPs’ staff and receives £39,000 a year from the House of Commons, recommends its readers use lobbyists to help draft speeches and says they can help Commons researchers draft ministerial questions or handle the administration of all-party parliamentary groups.

It adds: ‘The lack of room for career progression for MPs’ staff means that even if you are happy now, there might come a time when you will want to move on and lobbying could be the field where you next emerge.’


Campaign for Better Transport – Final #NPPF Response


Fundamental changes are necessary to make the NPPF acceptable from a transport perspective. For
• The definition of sustainable development should be clear and should include a definition of
sustainable transport which requires substantial reduction in carbon emissions from transport
• The NPPF should integrate transport and spatial planning and specify an appropriate pattern and
location of development
• Transport should be a more prominent matter in the NPPF and a more important part of its core
• Transport and spatial policies should promote a choice of means of transport first by seeking to
reduce the need to travel and then by prioritising walking, cycling and public transport use above
travel by car. Accessibility by sustainable means is of the essence
• By not applying the sequential test to office/commercial development and abolishing the requirement
for most development to be on brownfield land, the NPPF would permit out of town commercial
development and development which would not be accessible by a choice of transport. This would
generate traffic congestion and a demand for road infrastructure which there are not the resources to
meet. It will damage business and reduce GDP. It would also allow destruction of rural areas while
neglecting regeneration of the urban areas where most people live
• The NPPF should embrace the ‘smart growth’ or ‘compact city’ approach, now followed in modern
western economies. It should re-instate the requirement for the majority of development to be on
brownfield land and should retain national density and parking standards which the draft NPPF
proposes to abandon
• The ‘town centre first’ sequential test should apply to office and commercial development and the
needs test for out-of-town retail development should be re-introduced
• National standards for transport assessments and travel plans should be re-instated
• Caveats on facilitating sustainable transport ‘where practical’ or ‘where reasonable to do so’ and only
locating development ‘where practical’ to give priority to walking, cycling and public transport access,
should be removed
• The proposed thresholds for rejecting pro-development local or neighbourhood plans and
applications for development that would result in higher levels of traffic and congestion are too high
and should be reduced
• There must be provision for consulting transport authorities, which are not planning authorities, and
transport operators at an early stage of development plans and proposals
• The NPPF should have more policies that cover existing, as opposed to new, development
• Finally the integration of the NPPF with other policy areas will have to be improved. As it stands it
fails to promote urban regeneration or protect rural areas and does not take account of likely
resource constraints. For example the Department for Transport does not have the funds to build the
roads on which development likely to be permitted by the NPPF would depend and evidence from
current schemes shows that developers would not be able to make up the short-fall

Dealing with Housing Groups #NPPF Concerns – New Version of Alternative Draft

We have continued to keep our proposed alternative draft version of the NPPF draft dealing with concerns raised by many bodies concerning heritage and biodiversity issues.

In this latest version we have looked at issues raised by housing groups, including the HBF and an alliance of groups including the National Federation and Shelter.  We checked and the Homes and Communities Agency did not issue a response – despite having a full policy team – interesting.

The key housing issues were very easily fixed.

The aim has not been a lowest common denominator approach or worse a big tent approach accepting every change.  Rather it has been looking for common ground and accepting reasonable amendments that clarify issues and neither add unacceptably to length or divert the thrust of a more proactive document.

The alternative draft can be found here

A log of the changes here, including of those suggested which we think should not be made.

Next we will tackle transport issues, a much more difficult issue as the NPPF draft is so weak on this issue.

We are making good progress within a couple of weeks we think we will have got through all of the major groups comments.  What we hope this means is that it should be possible to ‘fix’ the key issues by broad consensus, leaving only the most difficult issues, concerning the ‘presumption’ and the duty to cooperate.

Commons DCLG #NPPF Select Committee Today 4.20

Watch on video here


Grimond Room
Meeting starts at 4.20pm

National Planning Policy Framework

  1. Robert Sullivan, Head of Corporate Affairs, The Football Association, Tony Burton, Director, Civic Voice, Stephen Wright, Principal Lawyer (Planning), John Lewis Partnership, and Mhora Samuel, Director, Theatres Trust
  2. Emmalene Gottwald, Chief Planning Policy Officer, WWF-UK, Shaun Spiers, Chief Executive, Campaign to Protect Rural England, and Roger Harding, Head of Policy, Research and Public Affairs, Shelter


Visit the Committee’s homepage.

The Homes and Communities Agency offered Land to Resettle Dale Farm

As a former new town land availability is not the issue for alternative Traveller Camps at Dale Farm. There is lots of land owned by the Homes and Communities Agency

The problem is the intransigence of the local planning authority claiming that any and every site is unsuitable.

This has emerged in a letter to Richard Howitt MEP

As landowner, the HCA has confirmed:
1) We are willing to place any of our land in Basildon at the Council’s
designation as a Gypsy and Traveller site(s).
2) We are willing to identify and invest capital to establish the pitches on
such land.
DCLG asked the HCA to join an Alternative Sites Working Group set up to
attempt to solve the issue that you have raised in your letter. This first met in
November 2009 and then on numerous occasions until 3 August 2010. Its
objective was to identify a group of six or so sites which could be made available
for development of up to 12 – 15 pitches in a mix of locations both within and
outside the Basildon Council area.
The membership of the core group consisted of representatives of Basildon
District Council, Essex County Council, the Government Office for the East of
England, together with the former leader of Reigate and Banstead Council and
chairman of the Local Government Association Task Force on Gypsies and

So will minutes of this group be published?

The Seaport SEA case at the European Court of Justice – Implications for RSS Revocation SEAs

On Friday the European Court of Justice gave its judgement on this important SEA case.

The case concerned a plan in northern Ireland where it stated it was not feasible to conduct an SEA.

In response to a challenge it stated

‘no duty of consultation [that is to authorities not the public] arises under Directive 2001/42 because it is fully possessed of relevant expertise and responsibilities; that no other specialised environmental body has such responsibilities; that no other body has been thus designated for Northern Ireland, and that the directive does not impose a duty to create or designate a new body for the Department to consult.’

A court challenge was successful and the Court of Appeal stayed proceedings awaiting a judgement of the European Court.

The key issues the court considered were

1.  On the proper construction of Directive 2001/42/EC, where a State authority which prepares a plan…is itself the authority charged with overall environmental responsibility in the Member State, is it open to the Member State to refuse to designate …any authority to be consulted for the purposes of [the directive]?

2.      On the proper construction of the directive, where the authority preparing a plan falling … is itself the authority charged with overall environmental responsibility in the Member State, is the Member State required to ensure that there is a consultation body which will be designated that is separate from that authority?

3.      On the proper construction of … [Directive 2001/42], may the requirement in …to the effect that the authorities referred to …and the public referred to in …be given an early and effective opportunity to express their opinion “within appropriate timeframes”, be transposed by rules which provide that the authority responsible for preparing the plan shall authorise the time-limit in each case within which opinions shall be expressed, or must the rules transposing the directive themselves lay down a time-limit, or different time-limits for different circumstances, within which such opinions shall be expressed?’

Consideration of the questions referred

On points 1 and 2

‘ in circumstances such as those in the main proceedings, Article 6(3) of Directive 2001/42 does not require that another authority to be consulted as provided for in that provision be created or designated, provided that, within the authority usually responsible for undertaking consultation on environmental matters and designated as such, a functional separation is organised so that an administrative entity internal to it has real autonomy, meaning, in particular, that it is provided with administrative and human resources of its own and is thus in a position to fulfil the tasks entrusted to authorities to be consulted as provided for…and, in particular, to give an objective opinion on the plan or programme envisaged by the authority to which it is attached.

On point 3

Directive 2001/42 must be interpreted as not requiring that the national legislation transposing the directive lay down precisely the periods within which the authorities designated and the public affected or likely to be affected for the purposes of Article 6(3) and (4) should be able to express their opinions on a particular draft plan or programme and on the environmental report upon it. Consequently, Article 6(2) does not preclude such periods from being laid down on a case-by-case basis by the authority which prepares the plan or programme. However, in that situation, Article 6(2) requires that, for the purposes of consultation of those authorities and the public on a given draft plan or programme, the period actually laid down be sufficient to allow them an effective opportunity to express their opinions in good time on that draft plan or programme and on the environmental report upon it.

The DoE NI is interpreting this as a victory, however it is not that simple.  It still has to be referred back to the Court of Appeal who will now give a view as to whether the SEA decision here was objective in the terms laid down.

The judgement does allow bodies to do their own SEAs, providing their is a Chinese wall.  This will clearly effect planning depts doping their own SEAs where the officers are responsible to the person leading the plan.  It is clear that new Chinese wall arrangements will be necessary.

It is also relevant to the RSS revocation SEAs, clearly the initial view has been that these are home brewed and far from objective.  In the light of this judgement they might expect a JR if they try to revoke.

LGA Welcomes #NPPF transition arrangements

Inside Housing

Councils have welcomed the government’s commitment to implementing a transitional period for planning reforms.

The Local Government Association has said that decentralisation minister Greg Clark’s promise to enforce a period for councils to draw up local plans will mean development remains in the hands of local people.

Previously, there had been concerns that without transitional arrangements for local plans, developers would be able to exploit the planning changes.

Under plans outlined in the draft National Planning Policy Framework, councils without local plans would have to adopt a ‘yes’ stance to development.

David Parsons, chairman of the LGA environment and housing board, said: ‘We support a simplified planning system, but councils have been clear that any development in their communities should improve the local area and meet the needs of local people.

‘The LGA had argued that with limited time to finalise local plans and a lack of guarantees over the benefits for the area, this might not happen.

‘We are pleased the government has listened to us and agreed that communities and councils need appropriate time to put into place their local plans.

‘It is important that the reforms go through due democratic process. We look forward to further detail on this.’

Chris Shepley #NPPF – Ambiguity the key issue

Chris Shepley Planning Resource

I keep reading that the planning system is holding up development and is somehow responsible for the current economic meltdown. This is tripe.

The planning system isn’t doing anything at all. It is an inert construct: an administrative framework devoid of policies, views or the ability to think or act, a tool for decision-making but not a decision-maker in itself.

The planning system is necessary to enable fair, transparent, rigorous, consultative and reasonably predictable decisions to be made on disparate and often very difficult matters. But if it’s planning rather than banking that caused the problem – hard to argue, but there we are – look at people, not processes.

Governments seem unable to distinguish between systems, cultures and policies. During my career, there have been about five different systems. The introduction of each has led to immediate calls for its replacement, followed by increasingly frenetic activity in Whitehall to find some impossible perfect solution. I guess this is easier than tackling culture or policy.

But the culture has remained more or less intact. Outside comfortable Britain, there has always been a presumption in favour of development, because people want jobs and prosperity. Within comfortable Britain, there has always been opposition to development because people are well enough off to be concerned primarily about the view from their back window. This was reinforced – the coalition should note – when the permissive approach of the 1980s had the opposite effect from the one intended by encouraging the nimby.

These basic cultures have survived all the system changes and will easily survive this one. Meanwhile, policy has evolved to enable the government of the day to meet its goals, insofar as it knows what they are, or is prepared to admit them. There are certain characteristics that policy needs to have. Above all, it needs to be clear. If it isn’t, lawyers celebrate but decisions don’t get made quickly or predictably.

This is the main fault of the draft National Planning Policy Framework, which is quite obviously ambiguous. Intelligent people have placed an interpretation upon it that ministers say is fundamentally incorrect. This can happen only if the policy is ambiguous. Although the document contains much that is unexceptionable, brevity is no substitute for clarity.

Click here to find out more!Ministers have been fiddling about trying to introduce a localism that could have been achieved under the old system. They have abolished, in the most cack-handed way imaginable, a regional system that was beginning to deliver some of the things they now say they want, without a workable replacement in sight. If they had concentrated on telling us what they really thought about climate change, or examined more forensically the reasons why housing is not being provided, we would be in a better place.

Chris Shepley is principal of Chris Shepley Planning and a former chief planning inspector for England and Wales