Information has come to light showing the close relationship between certain Brent Councillors and property development firms active in the area. The explosive information is the result of freedom of information requests by local campaigners.
On 9 May 2017, Councillor Muhammed Butt and several other councillors enjoyed the hospitality of Terrapin Communications, a PR company representing the interests of various property developers including R55, the company behind the Minavil Tower scheme. The councillors enjoyed a free 3-course meal while meeting with the developers from the construction industry. The stated purpose of the hospitality was “to engage and enable developers to better understand the Borough and our aspirations” for social housing and quality of design. More to the point, however, the developers clearly hoped to influence key decision makers of the Council.
Exactly why R55 feels the need to be represented by a “Public Relations” company like Terrapin Communications is unclear. It is interesting to note that some senior staff at Terrapin have previously worked at Bell Pottinger, the disgraced PR firm which has gone into administration this year following a scandal in South Africa.
Furthermore, it has emerged that Councillor Butt, the leader of Brent Council, has met with R55 staff on three separate occasions in the weeks before the critical planning meeting on 24 May 2017, where R55’s application was approved. One of those meetings took place on the day immediately before the decision.
What was discussed in those meetings between Cllr. Butt and R55? Unfortunately we will never know because no notes or minutes were taken. This is despite guidelines from the Local Government Association (LGA) which recommends the keeping of notes to ensure transparency.
In light of this information, the crucial question is whether the Council leader directed the members of the Planning Committee to cast their votes in favour of R55’s application (16/2629). If so this would cast doubt on the integrity of the Minavil House decision and the Council’s planning process more widely.