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Former Westminster planning chief steps aside over hospitality revelations

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Robert Davis has stood down as deputy leader of Westminster City Council while an investigation continues into the hospitality and gifts he received

It emerged last month that Davis – who chaired the council’s planning committee from 2001 to 2016 – received corporate perks more than 500 times in three years, including engagements with Zaha Hadid, John McAslan, Terry Farrell and Michael Squire.

His working lifestyle was branded ‘staggering’ and at times ‘ludicrous’ by the opposition Labour Party at the council, ahead of this May’s local election.

Davis referred himself to the council’s monitoring officer, Tasnim Shawkat, in a bid to reinforce his position that he had done nothing wrong. It has now emerged that a QC has been appointed to work on the investigation.

Announcing his decision yesterday, Davis said: ’Due to the ongoing interest and wrongful assertions regarding my time as chairman of planning, I have decided to step aside from my roles as deputy leader and cabinet member for business, culture and heritage while the council investigates. 

‘In 17 years as chairman of planning committees, which granted hundreds of applications and resulted in the council receiving substantial sums for affordable housing, public realm and other public amenity, I have at all times acted with the independence and probity required by my role.

‘My desire to rigorously declare all meetings and hospitably, regardless of its nature, underpins this transparency and independence.’

Davis’s declaration showed he regularly dined at the capital’s finest restaurants on the accounts of business and property groups. He also had dinner with a number of leading architects, including the late Zaha Hadid in November 2015 and John McAslan in June 2016.

In mid-January 2016, he attended a drinks party at the home of Terry Farrell and attended lunch at the M Restaurant with Michael Squire two days later. That November he took a tour of Squire & Partners’ new offices in Brixton followed by another lunch with Michael Squire.

On 14 May 2015 alone, according to his declaration, Davis was taken for lunch at the Shard by the late property tycoon Irvine Sellar, then attended a reception at Claridge’s with property consultancy Gerald Eve, before rounding off the day with hotel owner Ravi Fustok at a two Michelin-starred restaurant, the Ledbury. 

In the space of just five days later that summer, the man at the helm of the council’s planning decisions panel was treated to West End shows including Checkov’s The Seagull, a Frankie Valli concert, The Importance of Being Earnest and To Kill a Mockingbird. He also attended Miss Saigon within that period, paying for his own ticket but enjoying a reception ‘before, during and after’ the play.

There is no suggestion that Davis broke Westminster rules or acted improperly and no suggestion of wrongdoing on the part of any named individual or establishment. Davis himself has insisted that meeting developers was an ‘important’ part of his job.

He added yesterday: ‘I have got to know many of the developers and associated professionals who work in the city and help to develop Westminster into one of the most important economic centres in the country and home to over 280,000 people. 

‘Any suggestion or implication that I have done anything other than to further the interests of the city and its residents is baseless and strenuously denied.’

Councillor Tim Mitchell will assume Davis’ cabinet responsibilities while the investigation takes place. Davis will remain a backbench ward member.

Leader of the council Nickie Aiken said: ’Our residents need reassurance that the planning process is not only impartial, but is seen to be impartial. 

’That is why, when I became Leader over a year ago, I changed the way meetings between developers and the council take place. It is also why I’ve asked the council’s chief executive to look at all aspects of the decision-making process to ensure planning is, and is seen as, an independent and impartial process.’

The council said last month that any claim a councillor had been ‘bought’ by the property lobby was ’demonstrably untrue’.

The local authority said it was on course to deliver 1,850 affordable homes in the next five years and that it had made it clear to developers that ‘if you build in Westminster, you build for Westminster residents’.

Labour Group leader Adam Hug today said the party would ‘take action’ to change the culture at the council if elected in May.

Davis appeared at an AJ100 breakfast event in November 2016 discussing issues including plans for a new ‘People’s Choice’ architecture award.

Photography: Anthony Coleman

Read next: the AJ’s profile of Robert Davis

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