I’d like to make you an offer, Mr Rahman

Regular readers of this blog may have noticed that I started a hare running with my (admittedly somewhat intemperate) remarks about Tower Hamlets a few days ago. I have had a huge response to this, both in public and in private – mostly in private, and mostly supportive of my spluttering sense of exasperation. I am particularly grateful to the last post on this blog from Phil, who offers the voice of reason in all of this. 

It is a febrile and fraught environment east of Bishopsgate, and no mistake.  And I cannot help but observe that the City of London has enough threats on its horizon without its immediate neighbour destabilising the fringes. So I stand by my remarks, although I do concede that I could have expressed my views more professionally.

Now, this week, Lutfur Rahman, the mayor of Tower Hamlets, has taken to the online publication The Wharf to rail against my comments.  So this is now all a bit more serious. At the risk of perpetuating this row, I am writing an open letter, published below, in the spirit of positivity, and to offer some support if possible. 

For the record, though, it is important that I state here that I have no relationship whatsoever with Exemplar, the putative developer of the London Fruit and Wool Exchange.  I did know, very slightly, two of the principals of Exemplar, Clive Bush and Dan Van Gelder, back when they both worked for Development Securities, but that was many years ago.

I have had no relationship with them, or their company, ever since.  They have never contacted me concerning their application.  I am merely commenting on the principles of the matter as I see them.

 

Open letter to Mayor Lutfur Rahman, London Borough of Tower Hamlets

 

Dear Mayor,

 

I note with some consternation that in the online publication The Wharf you have referred to a recent blog I wrote as “deeply unpleasant”.

 

I am sorry if I have offended.  But I would merely remonstrate that while the views I expressed were certainly “sweeping and opinionated” (in the words of Tower Hamlets press officer Kelly Powell), I am quite clear that they were not as personally unpleasant as Ms Powell describing me as “bilious”.  And, much more important than this childish yah-boo-sucks exchange, it is a sad factthat the views I expressed were a very mild exposition of the market view of Tower Hamlets as a destination for inward investment. 

My views as expressed (and very much worse, and altogether ruder) are the consensus within the commercial market.  Rather than quarrel with me, you need to address this perception.  A perception which has been reinforced by the decision to refuse the application from Exemplar on the London Fruit and Wool Exchange.  And you need to address this very urgently indeed. 

 

So putting personal attacks to one side, I need to correct you on some matters of fact.  First, UKR is not a “developers’ lobbying group”.  Far from it!  We are a tiny SME supported by an open-source affiliation of regeneration practitioners who are actually rather critical, in the main, of developers, and who refuse to compromise on the matters of community engagement or the quality of the built form.

I think you may have been getting us confused with the BPF (the British Property Federation).  We emphatically do NOT represent developers, indeed we are so disenchanted with mainstream development processes, that we have secured a funding stream for a new vehicle to bring investment into beleaguered parts of the UK, using “open book” developer techniques, and putting the community and people at the heart of everything we do.

 

Secondly, Mr Rahman, please be assured this was not an attack on you, or on your office as the Mayor of Tower Hamlets.  I was attacking a crass decision by a Labour-dominated planning committee which, as with all planning committees, should have been acting in a quasi-judicial manner. 

In fact, I understand that it was advised so to act in the strongest possible terms by your officers, who were clearly doing an excellent job for you and who were disregarded. I understand also that the committee does not have a single independent member, despite independents comprising the second largest group in the council.

I am afraid that it is clear that the committee decision was entirely driven by petty vindictive personal politics.  And it has left your authority very exposed.

 

It is irrefutable that, by any objective criteria, Tower Hamlets council appears rudderless and leaderless.  I do not need to remind you that only the other day the Labour group blocked the appointment of a highly regarded chief executive.  Again, I appreciate that this was far from being your fault.  But it sent a dreadful signal.  Similarly, I appreciate and applaud your own mission to tackle worklessness but I am sorry to say that you can have as many lovely aspirations, aims and policies as you like but if you frighten developers and investors away with crazed councillors in key committee appointments then there are not going to be any jobs for anyone. 

Tower Hamlets council is clearly at war with itself – it is even suing itself at the moment!  How has such an important authority, in such an important part of London and the UK, ended up so totally paralysed and dysfunctional?  Rather than waste your energy railing against me, you need to challenge the various factions to put aside their differences and work together for Tower Hamlets.  And, if they won’t, then you should invite the secretary of state, Eric Pickles, to intervene.  

 

Finally, I would like to make you a modest offer.  My own track record of getting local people into jobs through the large-scale property development process may well be among the best in the country.  I say this in all humility as the bar is not very high (it not being something we normally excel at in the property industry). 

We could have done so much better had the political will ever been there.  But more than 5,000 local people were brokered into the jobs created at Paddington Waterside through work I began in 1997 and which has been brilliantly continued by Kay Buxton.  Work that is, to this day, acknowledged as setting a “gold standard” in economic benefit accruing from the property development process. 

I would offer you, gratis, that I put together a high-level workshop to bolster your aspiration to tackle this issue structurally.  We would take our cue from your own (award-winning and highly thought of) Skillsmatch, naturally, but would also broker in new support such as some of the cutting edge Olympic Legacy thinking and the brilliant initiative being put together under the aegis of Ernst and Young for recruitment of our returning armed forces.  But it would mean working with the developers concerned in open partnership.  And demonstrating palpably that Tower Hamlets is looking for growth and investment.  

 

Your call, Mr Mayor.

 

Yours sincerely

 

Jackie Sadek signature.jpg 

Jackie Sadek

Chief executive

UK Regeneration

 

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3 Responses to I’d like to make you an offer, Mr Rahman

  1. Cllr Carlo Gibbs 5 July, 2012 at 9:53 am #

    Jackie,

    As a member of the Strategic Development Committee that made the decision on the Fruit and Wool exchange, I thought I would take the opportunity to respond to your comments on this and the previous post, which appear to be informed entirely by a local blog and your own prejudices.

    Firstly, there is a suggestion that Tower Hamlets should be accepting any development just because it offers employment benefits. You should know better that S106 agreements form only a part of the committees decision making process. Furthermore, the truth about the potential for employment benefits from developments like this is that best endeavours would be made for around 20% of jobs to go to local people. Not every job.

    While that would still clearly be beneficial, this decision had to be considered in the face of the material planning considerations about the scheme in a balanced way. The proposal itself includes the near total demolition of a 1929 building and adjoining premises. While some may see this area as an extension of the city, it in fact sits in historical spitalfields and is surrounded by historic architecture. Its USP as an area is its historical value and its importance to the vintage industry that is booming in Shoreditch and Spitalfields.

    Further to this, it’s historical importance as a former air raid shelter and the historical importance of the surrounding streets was not given an appropriate level of acknowledgement with only vague plans of how to commemorate this.

    There were considerable concerns raised by English Heritage about the loss of the site and the developers ignored guidance from the Mayor of London that this should be an area of mixed use. The attempt to mitigate this by providing funds for off-site housing also went against Tower Hamlets general policy to avoid this type of agreement and provide social housing on site.

    As i’m sure you know, planning guidance issued by the Mayor of London and the local authority are extremely important when considering developments.

    Your suggestion that the scheme was supported by business and residents ignores the large campaign to preserve the historical building by local residents and others. You can read a little more about the campaign on the “Save the London Fruit and Wool Exchange” website and facebook page which goes into detail into the historical value of the building. This group also submitted counter proposals for consideration.

    However, with this and other decisions we dont just listen to whether the public or businesses are in favour or against (as it is quite often both) but take into account all of the relevant information available and make a decision on the basis of what we believe is right within the parameters set out for us.

    This brings me to the quite frankly baseless charge peddled around that this was done because of “petty party politics”. Which you yourself insinuate by repeating and addressing it as a “Labour dominated committee”. There is no benefit for my political party in this decision, we have no policy on this, it is not been campaigned on by my party and as I don’t represent this ward it makes no difference to my popularity. No one political has lobbied me or even expressed a view outside of the committee. I have no idea what the Mayor thinks about the scheme, other than his response to you. Even I they did, the quasi-judiacial role is taken incredibly seriously. Anyone who suggests this decision was taken (I have to add by a cross party panel) on the basis of party politics is doing so simply to advance their own aims. It’s quite frankly a lazy and insulting allegation made by people who clearly haven’t taken time to read the facts.

    The same goes for your suggestion this decision was taken on the basis of “paralysis” or “political in-fighting”. We don’t need to be patronised by people like you about our efforts to secure jobs, training and social housing for the people of our borough. I trust all members of the council, from all parties, to have a deeper concern for the people of Tower Hamlets than you. The idea that we cannot have legitimate differences and still discharge our quasi-judicial duties should be treated with the contempt it deserves.

    There are significant material considerations that needed to be taken into account and overall the decision was very difficult to make. Given the importance of the buildings and area, and the competing benefits and disadvantages, it is appropriate that the Mayor of London looks further and offers a view as to his opinions on these complex issues. This will bring further clarity to the guidance he issued. But the view of the committee in my view is is right and should stand. Also, the view that the Mayor should be able to overturn this because of things you read about the council on a blog to me is not a credible position.

    This decision does not mean there will be no development on this site, as a developed of some type would be beneficial to this area, but simply asks developers to take into account the areas historical significance. It also does not mean that no jobs can be brought to the site under a new development, something you don’t seem to appreciate.

    I would be happy to provide more information on this and any other decision of the committee in Tower Hamlets and am happy to robustly defend my decisions in this Committee which are taken honestly and impartially. Given your role, I would have suspected that you would spend more time researching the facts of a case before repeating blogposts and passing such ill-informed judgements.

    You have however, done your bit to unite politicians in the East End. For once, have to agree with the Mayor – on his analysis of your intervention. I would happily support him rejecting your no doubt well intentioned offer of support, given your apparent lack of diligence and understanding of the issue at hand.

    Kind regards,

    Cllr Carlo Gibbs
    Strategic Development Committee Member
    Tower Hamlets Council

  2. Jackie Sadek 5 July, 2012 at 11:41 am #

    My thanks to Cllr Gibbs for supplying these points of information. We all look forward to a united Tower Hamlets.

  3. Paul Jones 9 August, 2012 at 9:27 am #

    Good letter to the TH Mayor although I doubt he could ever write his own response with all the paid advisers around him who are equally incapable of pulling a sentence together in planning terms!

    I gotta say however that Tower Hamlets council officers are generally pretty capable. Those working in planning and development give recommendations to approve applications taking into account their expertise and knowledge on planning requirements. Committee members however aren’t experts. So they often disagree with officers in planning meetings. They put their own views forward instead of referring to planning guidelines from the mayor of London, UDP or London Plan. The way committee members behave is often upsetting because officers and applicants meet frequently prior to applications being made or heard in order to ensure that they meet council requirements.

    It appears that in the case of the LFWE there has been just another conflict between officers and unprofessional elected committee members with little experience in planning such as Cllr Gibbs confusing emotional heritage issues with that of real economic development. Officers recommended approval. Members ignored it, as if to discredit the former.

    Tower Hamlets councillors on the committee need to visit the ugly car park in The closed off gated Dorset Street to see what an eyesore it is opposite Christ Church the real heritage in the area. Empty offices in Spitalfields serve no one. If the redevelopment of the Exchange does truly create 3,000 jobs the council should consider listening to the mayor of London once he decides what to do with the site as thy dont have much choice anyway given the bizarre decision they made without Mayor Rahman even knowing whether the project would have been beneficial or not to the local deprived community of residents and small struggling businesses.

    Committee members must learn to co-operate with council officers recommending or disapproving planning applications not embarrass them with their ill experience or deficient knowledge of planning matters.

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