Last week’s international property fair MIPIM wasn’t just for developers and councils, it was also for those who help developers lobby councils. Four Communications is one such company. It says it offers teams of experts who “provide support at every stage of the planning, marketing and communications process” and helps to secure “political support in the face of public opposition”.

Extract from MIPIM attendees list

Who are these ‘experts’ able to magically gain the ‘political support’ of council members in developments facing public opposition? Well, who better than council members themselves?

Four Communications was founded in 2001 by former (Labour) Southwark council leader Jeremy Fraser. On its payroll and list of shareholders are former (Labour) Lambeth council leader Jim Dickson (who is also a sitting Lambeth councillor) and Southwark’s former (Labour) Cabinet Member for Regeneration Steve Lancashire.1 It counts amongst its employees Florence Eshalomi, Lambeth’s former deputy Cabinet member for Housing and current GLA assembly member for Lambeth and Southwark. Also on the payroll are Hackney Councillors Alan Laing and Karen Alcock - deputy Mayor with responsibility for housing and commercial property.

The South Bank’s King’s Reach Tower provides a good example of how Four Communications’ lobbying service works. In 2010, Developer CIT employed Four to ‘help’ get permission for its controversial 41 storey Blackfriars development. This is how Four’s 4 step lobbying process was implemented:

  • Four’s Steve Lancashire sets up meetings with his Southwark Labour cronies Peter John (council leader) and Fiona Colley (Cabinet Member for Regeneration).

Extract from page 6 of King’s Reach SCI produced by Four Communications

  • The old friends agree to nod through the development despite its numerous planning policy breaches like the lack of any on-site affordable housing.

  • The council leader and regen boss brief their planning officers instructing them to recommend the application to the (heavily whipped) planning committee, providing evidence that local residents support the application.

Every major planning application requires a Statement of Community Involvement (SCI) to demonstrate that the developer has consulted with the local community and that its plans have public support. Four has helped developers obtain permission and produced SCIs for an impressive list of (social housing-free) developments in Southwark. The table below provides links to the SCIs created by Four for each of the following developments which it helped obtain permission:

Neo Bankside Sampson & Ludgate House Elephant One SouthBank Tower The Shard
http://planning.. http://planningonli.. http://planningonl.. http://planningon.. http://www.w4mp..
St. George’s Wharf One Blackfriars Eileen House Strata Tower The Quill
http://fourcomm.. http://planningonli.. http://planningonl.. http://planningon.. http://planningonl..

Another working example is Strata Tower, which shows what a sham Four’s SCI consultation process is: its consultation showed that it had consulted just 13 people - hardly evidence of widespread public support. Unsurprisingly most of these agreed to the vague and narrowly-framed questions aimed at restricting any kind of meaningful consultation:

Page 19 of Strata Tower SCI

  • “The design of the scheme should be of the highest quality”
  • “Any new proposals should be environmentally friendly”
  • “It is important that local residents continue to be consulted as plans move forward”

The planning application was duly nodded through and Strata Tower - entirely without social rented housing but complete with useless wind turbines - was built.

Inclusive prosperity

It is worth noting that the council’s E&C regeneration partner Lend Lease, is absent from the list of Four’s clients. That’s because Lend Lease employs a different PR company called Quatro to handle PR for its developments. It’s also worth noting that Quatro’s Managing Director Paul Dimoldenberg, is a former senior Southwark council officer and current leader of the Labour group on Westminster city council.

Private Eye (issue 1380 - 25 Nov 2014)

Paul is one of many former Southwark Council officers and members who have shown that regeneration does indeed provide a wealth of opportunity. They have given a whole new meaning to the mantra of “inclusive prosperity”.

Footnotes:

  1. See pages 34 & 51 of the Southbank Tower SCI