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This is a guess post by Independent councillor Shahed Ali

UnknownI attended John Biggs’s first Mayoral Assembly held at Swanlea School on January 21 2016.  Although a step in the right direction, it soon became obvious to me it was nothing more than a ‘talking shop’ which would achieve nothing more to deliver our greatest need – building affordable rented housing.

The Whitechapel Vision aspires to deliver 3,500 new homes over several sites identified for private development. Our local plan, which clearly dictates our planning policies, requires developers to provide a minimum of 35% affordable housing on-site, or 50% affordable housing off-site. Of this, a ratio split of 70/30 must be affordable rent/intermediate housing.  

The latest developer to submit plans for development is ‘Sainsbury’s Whitechapel Square’.  This proposes a mixed development including residential housing to provide 608 new homes including a now revised towering 28 storey building, originally pitched at 33 storeys in height.  

However, if approved, it will only delivery 60 affordable rented homes [Note: Sainsbury’s has sent me the following comment: We are proposing to bring forward 89 social rent units, not 60 affordable rent units as Cllr Ali states. As I’m sure you’re aware, socially rented units are rented out at a cheaper level than affordable rent units.] So if we apply the same calculation to the total new homes Whitechapel Vision seeks to deliver, residents will get only 345 affordable rented homes of the total of 3500 new homes.  If our local plan housing target of 35% was to be met, residents could get 1225 new affordable homes, of which 856 could be affordable rent.

Mayor John Biggs response to concerned residents’ questions about the Sainsbury’s site was: “Our hands are tied by planning policy, but we try our best to get a better deal.  For example we managed to negotiate a reduction in height of the tower block from 33 storeys, down to 28 storeys.”

This is my view is a weak and defeatist response. For me, it raises serious questions as to the entire planning process and Tower Hamlets Labour group’s inability to challenge and get a much better deal for our community.

The question from John Biggs should be: “Is a viable development able to be built on this site?” And not: “Is this specific scheme viable?”

Anything can be made to look unviable, but it does not mean viable alternatives are not possible. Developers come with the attitude of: “How much could we get out of this site? How much profit are we losing as a result of following planning policies?”

So they start with packing as much as possible on to any given site and work back from there, instead of starting off with the local plan in the first place! Developers can still make a perfectly respectable profit by following the plan – because the plans themselves are viability tested.

I believe if developers feel they cannot do it according to our local plan, then they should not buy the land in the first place. Let someone else develop the site who will respect and follow the rules.

view-1-whitechapel-high-street

Whitechapel Vision

So how do developers get away with it? Developers claim their schemes are not commercially viable, and must submit a financial viability assessment explaining why the figures do not stack up. In simple terms, this assessment takes the total costs of a project, and subtracts them from the total projected revenue from sales, based on current property values.

What’s left over is called the “residual land value”.  The value of the site once development has completed, must be high enough to represent a decent return to the landowner. It is therefore in the developer’s interest to maximise its projected costs and minimise the projected sales values to make its plans appear less profitable.

With figures that generate a residual value not much higher than the building’s current value, the developer can wave “evidence” before the council that the project cannot be delivered if it has to meet our affordable housing targets.

A crucial failure of Tower Hamlets council is that developers’ viability assessments are hidden even from councillors and protected from public scrutiny on the grounds of “commercial confidentiality”.

Developers argue revealing the figures would compromise sensitive trade secrets. But I believe these reports do not tend to be scrutinised effectively by our planning officers either, and the confidentiality argument makes no sense because build costs are well-established in the public domain via the BCIS database, the industry standard tool everyone relies on.

Sales values are easily obtainable yet developers and local councils spend huge resources fighting to keep the figures in these viability assessments secret. I have requested viability assessment reports from the council myself, and it makes me wonder exactly what they are trying to hide?

Consultants know how to fiddle the figures in their client’s interest and planning departments are simply not resourced to scrutinise against the likes of specialist consultants such as BNP Paribas who have dedicated full-time teams working upon specific developments.

Many consultants are now paid bonuses for successfully reducing the number of affordable housing units on a scheme.

Local councils have lost the plot on this. All the things that are supposed to determine the best use of land – mix of uses, massing, density, social mix – have been trumped by finance.  It’s a form of financial modelling that’s hidden from view, entirely determined by the developers themselves.

Southwark and Greenwich councils were recently forced to disclose viability assessments after the determination of local residents’ battle that ended in tribunals awarding landmark decisions in favour of releasing the documents for public scrutiny.

Greenwich council, to its credit, has recently proposed introducing a policy that would require all viability assessments to be open to public scrutiny following calls for transparency.

It is a step in the right direction but simply making the information public so people know why the council is conceding its policy on affordable housing levels is not good enough. The fundamental basis of viability itself has to be challenged effectively. It is not simply an issue of transparency.

Braeburn Estates is a consortium led by Canary Wharf Group and Qatari Diar, developing a scheme known as the Shell Centre. That council’s planning policy aims for 50% affordable housing, but the Shell Centre will provide just 20%. It is the result of another viability assessment that pleads poverty to the council, while trumpeting the scheme as a lucrative opportunity to potential investors in the same breath?

This viability assessment was only disclosed when the project went to public inquiry.  To the council, flats were listed with an average sales value of £1,330 per sq ft, while a presentation aimed at investors suggested they would sell at an average of £1,641 per sq ft, representing a disparity of £234m across the scheme!

I was gobsmacked to sit and watch as Tower Hamlets incumbent planning committee gave approval for the huge Wood Wharf site neighbouring the Canary Wharf estate, outline planning consent with a requirement to provide only 25% affordable housing, for a development which will only come to completion in several years’ time, if not at least a decade away?

Surely house prices will have increased significantly, especially with the arrival of Crossrail at Canary Wharf?

These viability assessments conclusively prove that we cannot rely on developers to build affordable housing, and they are standing in the way of other groups who want to build it – the community land trusts, housing associations, co-housing groups – by preventing them from getting access to the land.

Instead the industry is wilfully inflating land values and forcing ill-resourced local council planning officers to recommend permission for schemes that fail to meet our local plan.

I get astonished by either the absolute silence, or silly questions that some of the committee members come up with at planning meetings.

It is obvious some do not bother reading the committee reports, nor has the knowledge or experience of being in a position to make such important decisions which will affect our generations to come.

It is a complete mockery.

These failures are actively contributing to the pace of ‘social cleansing’ being accelerated to the point of no return.  As a parent of two young girls, I am seriously worried about their future inability to remain living in Tower Hamlets.  However instead of allowing opposition members to actively contribute to these committees, the Labour group pitifully chooses to use its majority to effectively reduce and ‘take-out’ members who challenge such planning applications. I myself have become such a victim.

Coming back to the Sainsbury’s scheme, it seems likely that Barrett’s will be the development partner as they have worked in partnership with Sainsbury’s on other schemes.

The Mayor has set-up what he calls the ‘Housing Policy and Affordability Commission’.  Opposition councillors are excluded from this forum. However developers are most welcome, including Barrett’s’ Regional Managing Director, Alastair Baird.

Clearly this is a conflict of interest as I cannot imagine Barrett’s would be pro-active in championing the demonstrated flaws contained within viability assessments?

The Mayor needs to seriously take immediate action and engage the expertise required to comb through the viability assessment figures in detail when developers argue they cannot meet our policy requirement on affordable housing provision.

Viability is completely destroying the ability to build mixed communities, all on the grounds of spurious financial models, a legalised practice of fiddling figures that represents “a wholesale fraud on the public purse”.

It is critical that Tower Hamlets council develop the expertise in-house to tackle it now.

(I am now an excluded member of the Strategic Development Committee.  Due to changes to the political composition of group members, the council’s proportionality reduced a committee member.  However instead of affording the Independent Group the (good practice) opportunity to choose and decide which committee they would like to reduce a member within, the Labour group leader decided that the SDC committee should lose a IG member, which now gives Labour members an increased two-member majority on the SDC.  Never has the SDC had a political group with a 2 member majority on the SDC.)

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In 2007, a balding George Galloway and a few other bald men fought over the comb that was the imploding Respect/SWP “the Unity coalition” party. Due to a spat with the SWP about who owned the rights to the precious Respect name, Galloway’s main rump called themselves Respect Renewal. Separately, a gang of four councillors, largely cheesed off with the way their group leader Abjol Miah was running the show, split off to form a new group called Respect (Independent).

Eight years later and history is (kinda) repeating, albeit with some different faces and the musical chairs moving in different directions.

Back then the gang of four comprised Oli Rahman, Lutfa Begum, her daughter Rania Khan and Ahmed Hussain. Not long afterwards, Ahmed joined the Tories, where he is still well regarded, while the other three were bought off/recruited by Labour.

This morning the group that used to be called Tower Hamlets First and which is now known as Independents suffered its first split. Abjol Miah, upset at not retaining his paid position as a member of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee (instead, and incredibly, the job of scrutinising council business falls to grants king Maium Miah and the Prince of Narcissism Mahbub Alam), texted a couple of colleagues and then emailed John Williams, the council’s head of democratic services, to say he was quitting the group.

His move took some by surprise, not because he was defecting but because he was doing it alone. In the background there had been discussions about a few of them forming a new group. These talks had been taking place not just in the wake of Rabina Khan’s defeat, but also before it. What the disgruntled councillors had in common was a shared frustration at the way Lutfur Rahman (yes, him) was still effectively controlling things.

Last week, according to an insider, the Deposed Dear Leader met his former THF councillors to declare that Rabina would remain his candidate for mayor in 2018. Apparently his word was final, just as it had been when he selected her after his Election Court humiliation in April. No discussion, nada.

This, I’m told, was too much to stomach for some. To them, he was the cause of their current predicament – so how dare he not suggest an open and transparent selection process (ie a vote).

Lady Jane GreySo a number of them set about planning a split. I’m told that those planning to do so are the Independents’ group leader, Oli Rahman (the six day Acting Mayor and the Lady Jane Grey of Tower Hamlets politics); Shahed Ali; ex-deputy mayor Ohid Ahmed; Shafiqul Haque; and Mohammed Mufti Miah.

The first four were all Labour councillors. Whether Abjol would join them to make a group of six is not clear. bigpic

Were this to happen, their initial task would be to choose a name: Independents First? Independent (Independent)? Independent Renewal? Choices on the back of a postcard please.

More substantially (and I use that word advisedly), there would also be implications for the system of proportionality. The main Independents group would drop to 11 in number, while the new gang would have possibly six members. The former would lose entitlement to some committee positions, while the latter would gain some.

For the most part, and I think Abjol is the exception here, the possible defectors would like to return to Labour. Were that to happen, there would be so many dead bodies left in Labour the calls for a Tower Hamlets cemetery would become irresistible.

That said, it’s clear Lutfur is planning a long term comeback and that Rabina is working hard on strengthening her grassroots support. Labour is likely to have a fight on its hands in 2018, and by 2022 Lutfur will be eligible to stand as mayor again (in fact he could try for a vacated councillor position in 2019…if he’s not bankrupted by court costs, of course).

John Biggs at Labour iftarSo the aim of the game for John Biggs (and at an iftar for the Labour group on Tuesday night, pictured left, he made clear he’d want to stand again, although some tell me they’d like to see Sirajul Islam given a chance) must be to secure re-election, as well as running a decent council.

His hand is strengthened by weakening those of his opponents. Oli et al, believe it or not, do carry some votes. Deals that fall short of re-admittance to Labour can always be made.

Murky, but that’s politics I suppose.

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The following is a guest post by Tower Hamlets deputy mayor Cllr Oliur Rahman about his trip to Greece last month. He went with fellow Tower Hamlets First councillors Shahed Ali, Mahbub Alam, Shafiqul Haque, and various trade union activists. I wrote about it at the time here. The verdict in the Lutfur Rahman trial is expected next week, according to my latest information. Should that judgment go against Lutfur, Oli could be acting mayor for a short period. Clearly there are discussions even among Lutfur’s Tower Hamlets First party about who might stand in any mayoral by election in the event of a ‘guilty’ verdict. They’re only human after all.

oli rahman, mahbub alam

Deputy mayor Oli Rahman is wearing the hat

 

As the General Election draws closer, this should be a time of excitement and interest in politics. But for many, the opposite is the case. Huge numbers of people feel alienated from the political process, cynical with politicians, and don’t see any real difference between mainstream parties united on wanting to slash public spending. As the rise of the SNP and decline in Labour in Scotland demonstrates, people want to shake up the political order. And not just in Britain.Nowhere is this more evident than in Greece which has recently seen the election of the left-wing Syriza party on a programme of tackling austerity. A few weeks ago I decided to lead the first ever British local authority delegation to Greece. I did so because I am committed to build European solidarity against the austerity that is destroying the lives of fellow EU citizens. But I went for another reason. I wanted to see up close what this new kind of politics that Syriza stand for actually meant in practice.

On arrival our delegation – comprising of councillors, trade unionists and community activists – was taken into the Greek Parliament to meet with representatives of the International Aid Department. This was timely. The government was in the news for sticking to their pre-election commitment that they would not slash their international aid budget and ignoring demands from EU finance bureaucrats. It was refreshing to come across politicians who don’t actually pay lip service to humanitarianism, but put their words into practice.

The message from the Syriza representatives was loud and clear: for the peoples of Europe to defeat austerity we need a strong European-wide anti-austerity movement. This message was repeated in our meetings with activists in our visits to two social centres – these are citizen-run health clinics, food centres and legal aid hubs which have emerged to fill the gaps left by austerity.

The activists in the centre were at pains to emphasise that the aims of the centres is not about charity and just about helping people in desperate need. They are also about empowering citizens so that they can exercise power to shape and influence the political decisions affecting their lives. I was really impressed by the social centres and the representative from the Unite community centre on Cable Street agreed to look into twinning their centre with one in Athens.

As we travelled around Athens it had the appearance that all is well. The cafes were full, there seemed to be a buzz in the shopping malls. You see people sleeping in the streets but you do so in London too. However underneath the surface the figures tell a level of crisis much more severe than here. It is estimated that half the population are below the poverty line. Household incomes have fallen by a third since austerity hit. Many of those queuing at food banks belonged to the upper middle classes not so long ago.

Politicians with reactionary politics and simplistic solutions have done well in response to the crisis, and none more so that Golden Dawn, an openly neo-Nazi party that has scored up to 15 per cent in the opinions polls and whose members have been complicit in racist assaults and murder. They have made their gains on the back of trying to scapegoating migrants.

The reality of the impact of racism was brought home to us in a meeting we had with the anti-racist and anti-fascist organisation KEERFA which gathered together African, Pakistani and Bangladeshi members of migrant rights organisations. Their plight had been highlighted recently over the case of 35 illegal strawberry pickers who were shot at by their farm guards for asking for pay that was five months overdue.

Shockingly, when the case went before a court the guards were responsible were acquitted. We were privileged to meet with one of the leaders of the fruit workers, Tipu Chowdhury, whose testimony about their plight was very moving. We agreed we would organise a fundraising dinner in support on our return.The issue of the lack of basic rights for migrants was one that came up a lot on our visit. The local Bangladeshi community organised a dinner in our honour with over 200 people crammed into a tiny restaurant and we met members of the Greek Bangladeshi community who have been living in Greece for decades but still had not citizenship rights. As with all the Greeks we meet on our visits, the warmth of their welcome was overwhelming.

Hearing that we were in town we received a call on the eve of our departure from Athens from Zoi Konstantopoulo, the most senior woman in Greek politics, a human rights lawyer who sued Britain over the Iraq War, and Syriza’s President of Parliament asking us to come see her. We were honoured to meet her and were all impressed by her easy, relaxed style – she insisted we address her by her first name – and her lack of the airs and graces.

Zoi talked about how five years of austerity had strangled the Greek economy, the importance of building an international solidarity movement and the new government’s commitment to tackling racism. The Greek parliament has already made commitments to improving rights and Zoi affirmed the government’s commitment to redress this issue.

I know I am speaking for everyone on our delegation in writing that our trip to Greece was a really positive experience. It demonstrated the determination of the new Greek government to challenge the austerity agenda wreaking havoc in the EU.

I am came back from my trip more committed to the idea of a European Union, but one that is a Europe committed to the interests of all its citizens.

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At first sight, this one is straight from Comedy Central. Greece is in a bit of a pickle. It’s had a bit of a problem with corruption, and with how its politicians spend public money.

So who better to call in for a bit of advice than a special hit squad from Tower Hamlets?

Here’s a tweet from Stepney’s Tower Hamlets First councillor Mahbub Alam.

Yes, that’s Deputy Mayor Oli Rahman, two of his cabinet colleagues, Shahed Ali and Shafiqul Haque, as well as Mahbub, sitting there facing Greek MPs in Athens two days ago. Thanks to Alam, here are some other photos from their trip: CBBS0BmWQAAgzYe CBCwM2UWQAA-hr0   CBB0OnlWAAAXolu       CBDX7FOUQAAqWe-

CBGAlNMW4AAvkXj   CBGAlNQWwAEbUns

Where to start? As Private Eye’s Rotten Boroughs editor Tim Minogue remarked on Twitter last night….wtf. First, the hat. In the first picture above, it’s resting on the head of the deputy mayor, Oli Rahman. He says it was a gift from George Galloway. George_galloway_011 Indeed, he does look like a mini-George and Oli was once upon a time one of his Respect councillors in Tower Hamlets. In fact I’m told that Oli, like George, has also taken to cigars. I’m not sure if he’s started wearing leotards yet, but you never know. galloway-big-brother There are other links to Galloway with this trip as well. In that fourth picture above, showing a tasty meal in Athens on Thursday night, you can see sitting at the far end of the table on the left hand side as we look at it, Kevin Ovenden. A socialist philosopher mathematician, he was for very many years the left hand side of Galloway’s brain (the right being the slightly more creative Rob Hoveman).

Kevin has been in Greece for some time and is no doubt excited by the rise of the Syriza party there, but I’m assured this Tower Hamlets delegation was not his doing. It was all Oli Rahman’s idea, Oli told me this morning. He called me from a Greek train slightly distressed after one of their wider group had just been robbed of their wallet.

So why are they out there and who’s paying for it? When asked about the latter on Twitter last night, Mahbub (who has a fondness for travel, especially if it’s supported by public money..), had this to say:

HaringeyThey flew out on Thursday and are due back tomorrow. Also with the four Tower Hamlets councillors is Haringey’s Labour councillor, Isidoros Diakides (left), who is co-chair of the London-based Greek Solidarity Campaign. There are also officials from the NUT and Unison with them, including the Tower Hamlets council branch secretary John McLaughlin

Yesterday, they all met a group of Syriza MPs in Athens, the party’s head of international affairs, a local mayor and a member of the Greens. As one Tower Hamlets politico said to me yesterday, it’s difficult to understand who exactly is advising who.

However, while it’s easy and perfectly reasonable to mock and laugh, there is a serious side to this. Greece has a serious problem with racism and a growing one with fascism. Golden Dawn are neo-Nazis.

Last year, there were cries of “scandal” after a Greek court acquitted two farmers of shooting 28 Bangladeshi migrants who had been claiming back pay for their strawberry picking work. Very good accounts of the story are here and here.

Oli told me this morning there are some 700 Bengali businesses in Athens alone, many of which are struggling with the austerity measures. Oli thought that most of the Bengalis in Greece did not have Greek passports, merely indefinite leave to remain there. I asked whether any those he had met there wanted to come to the UK. He said if some were “given the possibility to, they would come”. However, he added many others simply wanted to pursue a life in Greece.

He said the Greek MPs and the Greek Bangladeshi Chambers of Commerce wanted to hear about how the racism of the Seventies and Eighties in the UK had been defeated. Oli said the MPs were amazed and impressed that people of an Asian immigrant background had conquered such prejudice and were now running a major London authority. “They were fascinated about that,” Oli said.

I asked Oli what he’d been most impressed with so far and he highlighted a movement set up by Syriza MPs called ‘Solidarity for All’. Each Syriza MP donates 20 per cent of their salary to it for humanitarian causes such as food distribution.

That’s wonderful, I said. I asked him whether he and other councillors in Tower Hamlets would do that, ie donate 20 per cent of their allowances to such causes. At first he said the deprivation in Tower Hamlets was nowhere near the scale of Greece. I pointed out there were food banks crying out for money. I said he’d be setting a fine example.

And then I think he got it. He said he would add a line to a motion he’s already submitted on the issues in Greece for the next council meeting. That should be an interesting vote.

So something good might well come from their diplomatic efforts. Overall, good on them for going.

On a lighter note, I asked Oli if he’d heard anyone using the word “malaka” around him. “I don’t speak Greek, mate,” he said, “but I think so, yeah.”

This is what it means.

Bless.

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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.

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Cllr Shahed Ali, Tower Hamlets council’s cabinet member for the ‘clean and green’ (ie street cleaning and refuse etc), was yesterday arrested on suspicion of multiple voting in May’s elections.

He was arrested early in the morning and asked to explain how two votes were cast in his name earlier this year.

It’s understood he was registered to vote at two different addresses.

A source close to Shahed said he voted just once in person and that was it. The source said the police investigation centres on the ballot cast from the second address.

He is said to be helping police solve the riddle, and strenuously denies any wrongdoing.

He is a member of Lutfur Rahman’s Tower Hamlets First party, having been expelled from Labour for having backed the Mayor in 2010.

He has been ward member for Whitechapel since 2006 when he was first elected for Respect.

A Scotland Yard spokesman said a 44 year old man had been arrested on suspicion of multiple voting yesterday.

Let me stress that Shahed has not been charged. My source said he wouldn’t be making any comment on the issue for fear of jeopardising the police investigation.

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UPDATE at 11.30am: The flag was removed this morning as police arrived at Mulberry Place to discuss concerns raised with them by the Jewish community. There had been worries about inciting hatred…this in a borough that has a No Place for Hate policy. Full story on Express.co.uk here.

This is a Guest Post by Cllr Shahed Ali, Mayor Lutfur Rahman’s cabinet member for environmental services. He has been a passionate supporter of the Palestinian cause for many years and was at the forefront of yesterday’s decision to raise the Palestinian flag at the town hall. That decision by the mayor was backed by the Labour group at a full council meeting last night. (As always with guest posts, by hosting them, I’m not necessarily endorsing them.)

 

shahed ali, palestinian flag, town hall, tower hamletsThe UK and USA governments trot out the same excuses: “Israel has a right to defend itself, it needs to protect its citizens.” But as always with the media, whether that is the BBC or Sky News, this is not the full story. The military onslaught by the fourth largest military power supposedly targeting Gaza is so brutally disproportionate and indiscriminate that it makes it impossible not to view Israel’s actions as nothing short of war crimes against humanity.

Four Israeli citizens have died from these ­primitive rockets, with approximately 50 Israeli soldiers killed fighting on the ground. Compare that to the death toll in Gaza? Of the 1,200-plus already killed, more than 80 per cent are ­civilians, mostly women and infants. Israel brands them terrorists but it is acting as judge, jury and executioner in the concentration camp that is Gaza.

What happened to the Jewish people at the hands of the Nazis is appalling. But you would think those atrocities would give Israelis a unique sense of perspective and empathy with the victims of a ghetto. Where can these people escape to when Israel is bombing hospitals, places of worship and even UN schools acting as ­shelters, where exactly is it safe to flee to?

I was born and brought up in London. I grew up learning, being taught in secondary school, about the story of Anne Frank during Nazi Germany. I grew up reading the book and also watching the movie series ‘Holocaust’.

I recall these memories very fondly and close to my heart. This history of Nazi genocide upon the Jewish people brings a wave of emotion and tears to my eyes, and rightly so.

That is the reason why my IQ does not allow me to comprehend just how such atrocities can now be committed upon the Palestinian people in this day and age – the ideology to the denial of rights, dispossession and expulsion of the “indigenous population of historic Palestine”?

No doubt many will and have already questioned and criticised Mayor Lutfur Rahman for the decision to fly the Palestinian flag at a British public Town Hall. I say this to those who say Palestine is not an issue for Tower Hamlets:  it very much is because we do not want the UK to become a breeding ground for young people who feel they have no choice but to express their anger and frustration for injustice by participating in military conflict abroad, whether they are Muslim, Arab, Jewish or Israeli.

Hamas is wrong to continue its DIY rocket attacks. But as Channel 4’s Jon Snow said this week: “If you strangle a people, deny them supply for years, extreme reaction is inevitable.” One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.

Tory Party chairman Grant Shapps is wrong to state we should not intervene on foreign affairs in the Middle East. It is we the people who vote to elect our government. Thousands of people have marched the streets of London and capital cities around the globe in solidarity against this injustice.

Foreign policy is most certainly in our interest and of concern to the British public. The attacks which took place on 7/7 cultivated from disgruntled British citizens in response to our foreign policy in the Middle East. Israel’s indiscriminate attacks upon civilian lives and our government turning a blind-eye will not solve this dispute.

They will just continue to create another generation of hate-filled Palestinians and others around the world, determined to fight against the injustice of being occupied, oppressed and slaughtered. The media is quick and correct to demonise British Muslims who choose to go abroad and participate in conflicts. But the same demonization should not be excluded to British Israelis who have also equally chosen to go abroad and participate with the Israeli Defence Force – both are wrong and both should be condemned.

I am extremely proud to be a member of Mayor Lutfur Rahman’s cabinet today at Tower Hamlets Council. I salute him for the courage he has demonstrated by agreeing to fly the Palestinian flag in solidarity with the hundreds of innocent children who are being slaughtered as we speak.

The British public cannot be a silent witness to this carnage one minute longer. Our government and the world must force Israel and Hamas to end this endless cycle of death, or we risk death and destruction much further afield to just the Holy land.

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