Since Labour took control of Hammersmith and Fulham Council they have made repeated claims about the vast sums of free and easy money they had taken from property developers in Section 106 money. The figures they have quoted have varied widely – but the normal message is that they just had to ask firmly and it was all meekly handed over.
Yet when it comes to providing the details they go oddly coy.
As Cllr Greg Smith, the Leader of the Conservative Group, said in a Council speech published on this blog last month last month:
“We’ve all heard the Leader’s boasts about how much “extra” he has brought in – £170 million was the claim at the last Full Council meeting. Although, as the papers state, the Council “currently holds £39.3m of funds [and] further receipts are expected”, but only when “approved developments proceed”.
“Your manifesto named three schemes that you were going to renegotiate: West Kensington and Gibbs Green Estates; Shepherds Bush Market; and Queens Wharf.Which of those has actually been renegotiated? None of them.
“You also used to claim that the new Town Hall offices were “unnecessary” and made the unequivocal manifesto commitment that, and I quote, “we will stop this”. Are the offices going ahead? They are. Let’s pause and reflect on that for a moment: the man who claims he was paid to train people in negotiating skills, and brags about his prowess with developers, has failed to negotiate with… himself.
“So when he brags about £170 million that he’s personally secured, perhaps we should turn instead to page 23 of the budget report: “Outside investment secured (i.e. Section 106)” – £1.79 million. What’s two decimal points between friends?
“Now, he may say the money’s coming, but until he finally publishes a breakdown of schemes, the amounts, and the concessions he’s given on things like overage, it’s just like the rest of his claims. Absolutely worthless.”
My own efforts to get at the truth have been met with obfuscation and delay.
For instance a recent request for the information was met with the following from John Finlayson, the Head of Planning Regeneration:
“The renegotiations were subject of a detailed report to the Finance and Delivery Policy and Accountability Committee on the 30 June 2015.”
Yes, yes. We’ve all seen that report. It said:
“Renegotiations have also taken place on a number of land contracts. The detail is still confidential and will be made public in due course, except where the information remains exempt from disclosure as is standard practice with land sale transactions.”
So we have a Kafkaessque response where an answer to a question is a reference to a previous non answer to the same question. 10 months on and we are still told details will be available in “due course” while dubious totals are trumpeted by the Council’s spin machine.
If the Council genuinely believe they have secured a good deal in their renegotiations then what do they have to hide?
Labour’s claim to believe in transparency has been proven to be fraudulent. They have rejected a Conservative proposal to publish property developer viability proposal. They have refused to make available an audio record of planning committee meetings. They refuse to come clean on their informal meetings with property developer lobbyist Charlie Napier. Even the supposed “minutes” of meetings they do publish, such as those with Capco, turn out to be nothing of the kind.
Sunlight is the best disinfectant. Labour should be open with residents about what they are up to.