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Former Westminster planning chief’s ‘staggering’ hospitality record criticised

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Former chairman of Westminster’s planning committee Robert Davis received corporate perks more than 500 times in three years including engagements with Zaha Hadid, John McAslan, Terry Farrell and Michael Squire

Davis – cabinet member for planning at Westminster City Council from 2001 to 2016 – 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 then 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 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 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 insisted meeting developers was an ‘important’ part of his job.

‘These meetings were all properly declared and open to anyone to examine,’ he added.

‘Their sole purpose was to ensure and encourage the right kind of development in Westminster and ensure that anything put before the council was going to benefit the city as a whole.’

However, Davis’s working lifestyle was branded ‘staggering’ and at times ‘ludicrous’ by the opposition Labour Party at the council, which has pledged to ban councillors receiving hospitality from developers if it gets elected.

‘There is a clear perception that senior Conservative councillors have very close relationships with developers,’ said the Labour group in a statement.

Councillor Adam Hug added: ‘Labour will act to change the broken culture at Westminster Council so that we put the needs of residents before those of developers. Councillors should have a transparent relationship with developers and other powerful interests so that residents can be assured that their representatives are fighting for them rather than dining out on developers’ expense accounts.’

Davis has refered himself to the council’s monitoring officer, Tasnim Shawkat, in a bid to reinforce his position that he did no wrong.

’I am absolutely clear I have not broken any rules, but given recent attention I believe this is the right step to take so that can be shown to be the case, and to reassure residents of this,’ he said.

’Throughout my 36 years at Westminster City Council, I have had only one aim; to serve the people of Westminster. I have always been scrupulously open in my register of interests precisely to ensure transparency.’

A Westminster City Council spokesperson said: ‘Westminster is a target for investment for UK and national developers, so it is hardly surprising that the chair of planning for Westminster City Council – the largest planning authority in the UK - undertakes a large number of meetings. These also have officers present.

‘Where hospitality is offered, these meetings are all declared in the register of interests and have absolutely no sway on planning decisions.’

‘The idea that any councillor has been “bought” by the property lobby is 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’.

Davis also 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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Readers' comments (1)

  • Chris Roche

    There are a great many potential "conflicts of interest" within the Planning System which require close scrutiny. It would appear we have less to fear from properly declared "meetings" however lavish the hospitality than from more clandestine "consultations" which operate below the radar. The law requires Councillors to declare any potential conflicts of interest which may affect their decision making, and journalists can play an important role in ensuring adequate safeguards are in place. We have come a long way from the dark days of the 1970's world of John Poulson and T Dan Smith but there is never room for complacency, and with transparency replacing secrecy the electorate can decide if an elected officer has acted wisely in the execution of their responsibilities.

    Chris Roche /11.04

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