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Camden planning chair embroiled in 'conflict of interest' row

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The new chair of planning in Camden has found herself in extremely hot water following the approval of a contentious tower in Euston by Farrells.

Heather Johnson became caught up in a row at the end of last week over a potential conflict of interest concerning her chairmanship of the committee that gave the scheme the green light last week and a position she also holds on the West Euston Partnership.

Critics from three local conservation groups have launched a volley of criticism of her handling of the case because the West Euston Partnership will benefit from the project's Section 106 agreement. It has also previously received funding from the developer of the scheme, British Land.

Details of Farrells' Euston tower scheme are currently unclear, but the planning application has caused ructions in the area.

The Regent's Park Conservation Area Advisory Committee, the Friends of Regent's Park and the St Marylebone Society have written to the council complaining of Labour councillor Johnson's behaviour as 'prejudicial'.

'That the organisation [the West Euston Partnership] has received funds from one of the developers was not made clear at the opening of the [planning committee] meeting,' the letter states.

'Nor [was it made clear] when the chair made the unusual step of [deciding that] the subcommittee hear a deputation in support of the project from - who else? - the West Euston Partnership,' the letter says.

The group goes on to claim that at least two, unnamed, councillors are also 'deeply concerned' about Johnson's decision-making on the scheme.

However, a Camden council spokesperson has refuted these complaints: 'Councillor Johnson's view in making her decision on the application was that it was clear from the officers' report and from the deputation statements that the majority of objections had been overcome and there was support for the scheme locally,' they said.

'Her view was that the scheme in itself was of good architectural design and any shortcomings were outweighed by the provision of good quality, affordable housing in the scheme, the huge improvements planned for the public realm and the contributions to local employment and youth facilities.

When it came to the casting vote, she voted to go with the officers' recommendation to approve the application and would consider that this would be the correct way for a chair to use a casting vote,' the spokesperson added.

by Ed Dorrell

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