Saturday, 15 November 2008

More Trousergate News

Things are moving fast on the Red Trousergate front as politicians emerge to take positions. Over on Charlie Bolton's Southville Blog prominent Lib-Dem councillor Gary Hopkins has left a comment on Charlie's "By George" post.

Hopkins seems to be saying that Ferguson's conduct was no different to what one would expect from any other developer trying to secure the best possible deal (so that's all right then?) but implying that Bishop's conduct looks dubious and may be symptomatic of a deeper malaise in the Council.

But I'll let you judge for yourselves. Here's (most of) Gary Hopkins' comment (plus my typographical corrections):

I unlike the blogger or some others am not shocked that a developer, of whatever shade of green or none, should do his best to secure the best deal for his development.

It happens all the time and I would be surprised if any developer were not trying to lobby. It is the council officers job to act in line with council policy and in the interests of Bristol residents.

Three things though are being suggested

1 That council policy has not been followed. There is genuine concern here and whilst it has been common practice for many years at Bristol CC it is not acceptable and it does undermine political accountability. It has been confirmed that the piece of land was part of the green space strategy and I have confirmation that no exceptions were written in to the plan. (This was in answer to queries about Filwood park)

2 That the action is not in the interests of residents. The point of loss of accountability is that it becomes almost impossible to test this.

3 Something illegal has occurred. I have seen no evidence of this but would support openness as a matter of principle. Getting basic information out of this administration is a real problem , even for a determined questioner like myself, and a secretive administration will inevitably become a bad one even if it does not start that way.

Basically sound points, but I don't think it fair to say that the suggestion is simply that something "illegal" occurred. The suggestion is that the way in which the decision to sell the land to Squarepeg was made was improper and clandestine. Would that constitute illegality? I don't know. But it does give rise to suspicions of something resembling bribery which is what Council procedures should always be at pains to avoid.

I think the root of the problem is the Council's obsession with working in Partnership with other interested parties which blurs the vitally important distinction between the Council itself and the variety of vested interests they have to deal with.

So in the Chocolate Factory example the developer, Squarepeg, through its agents Pegasus Planning Group et al, has entered into a Planning Performance Agreement with the council which seems to allow them to fast track through the system in a privileged way and which gives undue credibility to the 'public consultations' that they have carried out on their own account.

One manifestation of this was that the Squarepeg were invited to make an informal presentation to the Planning Committee well in advance of any Planning Application even being submitted, so ensuring that the Committee will be predisposed towards the Planning Application when they come to determine it. No such facility is offered to objectors of course.

Bristol Greengage also makes some pertinent comments about this, rather more wittily than I can manage, and BB has just posted on this too.


Glenn Vowles said...

Excellent post Chris. I wonder if Gary Hopkins could provide us with some examples to illustrate what he describes?? We need more people to tell us more. Would a historical study show that the same characters keep cropping up??

Chronos'n'Karma said...

Or what?
Who is the psychic round here?