‘Shadowy’ planning lobbyists must be exposed

In an interesting article by Steven Swinford in the Daily Telegraph today (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/10250608/Eric-Pickles-Shadowy-planning-lobbyists-must-be-exposed.html) and reproduced below:

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LOBBYISTS who secretly work for property developers to help push through controversial planning applications will be forced to publish their client list or face prosecution, a minister has warned.

Eric Pickles, the Local Government Secretary, said he wants to expose the “shadowy” world in which highly paid lobbyists seek to persuade officials and councillors to approve developments.

He said there is concern about the “ethics and practices” of some of the lobbyists, who in the past have been known to pretend to be local members of a community in order to gain support for planning applications.

Mr Pickles is planning to amend the Transparency of Lobbying Bill, which is currently before Parliament, to extend it to cover local authorities. Lobbyists will be required to update their entry every three months. Those who deliberately leave off clients would face prosecution.

Mr Pickles told The Telegraph: “The bill is an opportunity to extend lobbying registration to local government, so shadowy third-party consultancies who help lobby councillors and council officers act in an open fashion.”

The Telegraph disclosed earlier this year that some local councillors are offering themselves as advisers to property developers for fees of up to £20,000, despite the potential conflict of interest. Under relaxed planning reforms, local authorities without a development plan in their area are expected to approve any application which is said to be “sustainable”. Conservationists have warned that the term is too open to interpretation.

Mr Pickles said: “The Telegraph’s expose of the dubious, if not unlawful, practice of councillors lobbying councils for money shows the need for the sunlight of transparency. There is concern about the ethics and practices of a small part of the development lobbying industry, and action is needed to flush out bad practices from a small number of rogue operators.”

Francis Ingham, chief executive of the Public Relations Consultants Association, welcomed the move. He said: “It would drive those who behave pretty unethically out of business. We have heard of companies who get their staff to go around pretending they have just moved into an area and getting people to sign petitions.”

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