This week there has been a spate of housing stories in the press. Some national papers were headlining initiatives to rob local authorities of their planning powers and the BBC was featuring a call for a million new homes by 2020.
Further investigations by the LAMBS team have uncovered not only a web of unmistakable connections between Mayfield Market Towns and both these stories, but also some deeply unsettling conflicts of interest at the very highest level.
Last week, the Planning Minister, Brandon Lewis appointed Mayfields’ Planning Consultant, John Rhodes (from Quod) as Chairman of a new panel charged with “speeding up the planning process.” Ironically, in Sussex, the same Mr Rhodes has been instrumental in concerted efforts to slow down the progress of Horsham’s District Plan, by urging the Inspector, Geoff Salter to find it “unsound.” This would have left the District in limbo for at least another year, but fortunately Mr Rhodes efforts were unsuccessful and the Plan is now close to adoption.
However, the plot thickens considerably with the knowledge that Mr Rhodes’ government appointment was announced almost simultaneously with the publication of a document titled, “Housing – Nationally Significant Infrastructure?”. This apparently ‘independent’ report was produced jointly by Quod and the law firm, Bond Dickinson. It lists Mr Rhodes as one of its contributors, along with four other participants, “who chose to remain anonymous.” The report was the source of an article in Monday’s Times which ran under the heading; “Call to cut Local Councils out of Housing Schemes.”
LAMBS can find no documentary evidence of who these four mystery contributors are, but on closer inspection this report bears many similarities in tone and content to a number of Mayfields’ Director’s own publications. It makes nearly 50 references to ‘New Towns’ and ‘Garden Cities’ and many more references to The 2014 Wolfson Prize, stating that “Three of the five finalists suggested building between 30 and 40 garden cities to meet Britain’s housing need.” This is interesting when you consider that one of these ‘three finalists’, is Mayfields’ Director, Peter Freeman and another is Barton Wilmore, which is Mayfields Director, Lee Newlyn’s former company!
Moving on to this week’s second housing story – LAMBS can reveal that the hidden connection behind Monday’s BBC News headlines is Mayfields Director, Lord Matthew Taylor. The origin of this story is figures published by The National Housing Federation, calling for a million new homes to be built by 2020. LAMBS was contacted by a BBC researcher who wanted to film at the Mayfields ‘site’ because it was a “good example of somewhere a lot of houses could be built in one place.” However, this angle was dropped when the BBC was made aware of Lord Taylor’s position as National Housing Federation Chairman! This point was also made very eloquently by local land owner, Robert Worsley during a live interview on BBC Radio Sussex’s Breakfast programme on Monday.
There is no doubt that Mr Rhodes and Lord Taylor are probably not breaking the law by combining their work for Mayfields with their various high level positions, however LAMBS believes they are both sailing very close to the wind in some deeply murky waters.
As South Downs MP, Nick Herbert said in the early stages of this whole sorry saga, “They’re not getting their way through the democratic process, so they are trying to subvert it. I think it is absolutely contemptible.”
Delay Tactics from Minister’s Top Man
Inspector: “You seem to be saying to me that you think the plan is unsound, Mr Rhodes, and that we go into a limbo situation while the council provides more houses…”
Mr Rhodes: “The evidence is you’ve got 16,000 unmet need across the border in Brighton…”
Inspector: “Yes, but there’s an issue on whether it’s the same housing market number , as I’ve said – and this is without prejudice to what I think about your site – I have expressed some concerns about it but there might be other things I might have to say about those needs. I am working within a system, I am examining Horsham’s Plan, I am not here to start doing a Regional Plan, as you know. You seem to be asking me to say to someone that that’s what needs to be done.”
Mr Rhodes: “I’m absolutely not.”
Later in the discussion Mr Rhodes repeated his call for the Inspector to reject the Plan saying: “You don’t have a sound Plan because the authority hasn’t undertaken, or even attempted to undertake this exercise.”