Council chief denies conflict of interest after taking job with top planning firm
Labour planning chief quits for job with firm that worked on controversial developments
06 October, 2017 — By William McLennan
Phil Jones will remain a councillor until May next year
A LEADING councillor who has been hired by a planning firm that worked on some of Camden’s most controversial developments has insisted, amid calls for him to step down from the Town Hall, that his new job does not create a conflict of interest.
Labour councillor Phil Jones, who quit his cabinet role after being hired by Turley, said his actions have always been “thoroughly based on the democratically-agreed policies of the council and furthering the public interest”.
His job at Turley, a national consultancy which regularly represents developers looking to build in the borough, has led residents to ask whether past decisions may have been influenced by the prospect of a job or that established relationships with the council would affect future decisions.
Turley, which has offices in 13 cities across Britain, acted as consultants for developer Essential Living over its application to build a 24-storey skyscraper at 100 Avenue Road, in what proved to be one of the most controversial developments in recent years.
In June this year, the developer was back before the council’s planning committee, with Cllr Jones on the panel, asking for some of the conditions of the planning permission to be removed.
Michael Lowndes, a senior director for Turley, spoke at the meeting on behalf of Essential Living to jeers from the public gallery.
He said of residents opposing the scheme: “All they are doing is trying to prevent the delivery of 184 much-needed homes, of which 54 are genuinely affordable.”
Janine Sachs, who is part of the Save Swiss Cottage campaign, questions whether Cllr Jones’ role on the committee represented a “flagrant conflict of interests” in a letter to the New Journal this week (see page 17).
But Cllr Jones said in a statement last night (Wednesday): “I wanted to start a new career as a town planner once I had finished my masters degree in planning, and I have sought and followed the advice of the Borough Solicitor regarding my new job.”
He added: “Future planning decisions of the council will be a matter for the councillors and officers involved. I will not be part of the decision-making process as I have relinquished all my planning responsibilities and stood down from the planning committee.
“There are clear rules in place that prevent involvement of any councillor in decisions involving their employer.”
A statement from Turley said: “In managing the transition from his political role [Cllr Jones] has carefully followed the advice of the Borough Solicitor.”
Cllr Jones told Labour colleagues on August 26 that he would be stepping down from the cabinet and later said he would be leaving the council altogether as a councillor at next May’s local elections.
He said this week: “I made a commitment to Cantelowes ward to serve for four years and I intend to do my duty until the elections. “There is certainly no clamour for a by-election from residents in the ward.”
His former cabinet colleague, Labour councillor Abdul Hai, also had to take legal advice recently after he took a new job as a director working for Market Tech, the company behind the massive overhaul of canalside sites next to Camden Lock.
He was cleared to stay on as an executive councillor but was taken off some duties.
A council spokesman said: “The council has well-established and clear rules about conduct and process for decision making and we are confident that these will be followed.
“Many of our councillors have employment and other interests and they take steps to ensure that those interests do not conflict with their decision making on behalf of the borough and its residents.”