Happy New Year to everyone. May it bring harmony, peace and joyous ringing of bells throughout the borough!
I wrote on December 11 that Cllr Shahed Ali, Lutfur Rahman’s cabinet member for street cleaning and waste management (I always think of Tony Soprano when I hear that term), had been arrested for alleged vote fraud in Tower Hamlets.
The Met Police had arrested him at his home address early in the morning and told him he was being investigated for “multiple voting”. He was released on bail until a date this month.
Scotland Yard has now confirmed that Shahed will face no further action. They have investigated the complaints and his explanations and Shahed has no more questions to answer.
As for what actually happened, that remains a mystery: it’s not clear whether the police are continuing their investigations.
It’s a fact that Shahed was registered at two separate addresses; it’s also a fact that two votes registered to him were used.
But remember, he is completely innocent.
He is now able to get on with his job in a cabinet whose members are beginning to complain among themselves about being toothless puppets for Lutfur’s executive office.
And I understand that it’s not just Lutfur’s cabinet members who are wondering what their jobs are (note that although they complain, they’re still happy to pocket their £12k a year extra ‘special responsibility allowances’). His backbench ‘Tower Hamlets First’ councillors, who include the likes of Abjol Miah, are also grumbling.
During Lutfur’s last administration, he did not hold a single group meeting with his team of councillors. This was all explained away by arguing they weren’t really a group, but merely a collection of like-minded independents.
However, since May they’ve been an official group (thus collecting the public money that flies their way). Yet, I’m told, despite promises by Lutfur to hold them, there still hasn’t been any group meetings.
Perhaps Lutfur has been too busy. Or perhaps he simply doesn’t rate many of his councillors that much. Either way, they’re not the actions of a mayor who’s trying to address doubts about governance.
His next big meeting is cabinet on Wednesday evening when one of the major issues up for ‘discussion’ is a new 16-year waste management contract, which is currently run by Veolia.
A public tender will soon go out for a 16-year deal worth £26million a year in total, i.e. £416million over the life of the deal.
On Wednesday, Lutfur’s cabinet will have to agree the principles of what to ask for in the tender. It seems that officers are recommending any new contractor “provides their own depot” for the dust-bin lorries. You can view the cabinet paper here.
Currently, the lorries operate from a council owned depot in the borough, but the town hall is proposing to withdraw any publicly owned property for that use because it’s all being earmarked for housing development.
The likely consequence of this that any new contractor will have to drive trucks in every day from outside the borough. So if they drive in from Rainham, for example, where there are large depots, they are sure to get caught up in the horrendous westbound morning traffic on the A13.
And that of course will mean delays, missed collections and higher costs.
Surely there’s a brownfield site that can be laid aside instead of reserving it for what would amount to 20 or so ‘affordable’ 2-bed flats.
The question is: should housing considerations trump all others?
Which brings me to a press release issued by Tory Canary Wharf councillor Andrew Wood over the Christmas period.
It concerns the site of the old City Pride pub on the corner of Marsh Wall and Westferry Road in Canary Wharf. In 2008, it became one of the most expensive pubs in the world when it was valued at £32million.
It was demolished a few years ago and in October 2013, developers secured planning consent for a 75-storey skyscraper. It would be the UK’s second tallest residential building and house 984 luxury apartments.
For they will all be luxury flats. The council seems prepared to accept that it just won’t do to have any affordable housing there; instead, they want the developer to build flats for the cleaners and other unworthy plebs well away from their building.
Not only that, the council says this skyscraper is so important (it will earn the borough up to £10million in s106 planning gain payments) that any existing resident in that area who complains about loss of light can simply forget it.
From the council’s cabinet papers, the developers have complained that a number of pesky neighbours have threatened an injunction against their project on the grounds that it would affect their lawful “right to light”.
Under the law, only a local authority can over-ride someone’s human right to light.
So the council has stepped in to help. It is proposing to acquire the property rights from the developer, then over-ride residents’ right to light, and then transfer the property rights back to the developer.
It seems pretty cynical, to say the least.
We’ll find out on Wednesday whether Lutfur thinks this is worthy use of these powers.
Here’s Cllr Wood’s press release:
Mayor Lutfur Rahman to acquire the property rights to the 2nd tallest residential building in the UK in order to circumvent resident’s legal rights (as well as giving two fingers to Eric Pickles).
Tower Hamlets Council has announced its intention (see attached PDF) to acquire the land at City Pride and Island Point on the Isle of Dogs, London E14. City Pride if built would be the second tallest residential building in the UK at 233 meters high, 984 apartments and 75 storeys.
The Council would then apply its powers under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 to break neighbouring residents right to light. Under English Law properties older than 20 years own the right to light and if a neighbouring building overshadows residents living spaces they can either negotiate a settlement or they can block that development. Only the Council can legally break that right to light but only if it owns the property. This was first introduced to allow Councils to develop public infrastructure and was then used in the City of London i.e. the ‘walkie talkie’ to allow major office development to progress. Industry professionals have expressed surprise that a Council would do it to allow a purely residential development and they are not aware that such a power has been used elsewhere in a residential as opposed to business area. The Council would do this in return for £9.5m of s106 cash contributions and the delivery of 187 social housing units off-site at Island Point.
Tower Hamlets Council claim that the social, environmental and economic benefits of allowing City Pride to be built outweigh the disruption caused to local residents. This is despite Tower Hamlets Council employing an external consultant, LUC, who recently recommended that any development whose density exceeds 3,000 habitable rooms per hectare not be allowed, City Pride would be 5,803 rooms per hectare making it the densest developments in the country. The London Plan recommends a limit of 1,100 rooms per hectare.
Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government recently appointed two external Commissioners who will be responsible for approving any property disposals made by the Council. They are however not responsible for approving property acquisitions and as the deal is likely to be a back to back deal they will be faced with a fait accompli, the Council has already agreed a decision leaving them with no choice but to acquiesce as it is not in the Councils interests to retain ownership of the land. There is no evidence that they have been consulted on this issue yet.
In addition from Monday 5th January 2015 Tower Hamlets Council is supposed to be consulting residents of the area on the South Quay Masterplan, a development plan intended to guide future development of the area which includes the City Pride site (an area which will include 7 of the 12 tallest residential buildings in the UK and an increase in population from 2,932 people to 22,964 on one road). However rather than waiting to consult residents on whether City Pride delivers public benefits it has short circuited the process by announcing a decision in advance of that consultation starting. This is why Commissioners were appointed to try and improve transparency.
The Mayor, Lutfur Rahman will formally announce the decision in Cabinet on Wednesday 7th January 2015.
The Wharf newspaper reported this story here.