Inside government and directing policy
Property developers are among the most active lobbyists in the UK, hiring lobbying agencies in their droves to sway local planning committees into approving their developments, and to win the backing of communities affected.
It is with central government, however, that they hold the most clout. So favoured are they at the moment, that they have been given a seat in government from which to write policy. As the website OurCity.London discovered, some of the industry’s trade bodies and biggest developers are directing the actions of civil servants through a little known advisory board to the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG).
The Planning Sounding Board, which is dominated by lobbyists for the development industry, meets regularly to discuss ‘live planning policy issues’ with DCLG planning officials. According to the Board’s terms of reference, these officials are then tasked with ‘ensuring that the board’s decisions and agreed actions are communicated and implemented’.
Members of this privileged group include: the Home Builders’ Federation, which represents the interests of house building giants like Taylor Wimpey, Persimmon and Barratt; British Property Federation, which lobbies for the real estate industry; business lobby group, London First, whose members include major banks like Merrill Lynch, the Big 4 accountancy giants, sovereign wealth funds and major property developers, such as British Land (which also has its own seat at the table).
What they are discussing with officials – and more importantly, how they are influencing policies that affect where and how people live – is secret. No minutes are taken of meetings, despite officials being present, and the government has exempted the group from the Freedom of Information law. We have no means of knowing their influence on policy.
Nor is the lobbying by these developers covered by the government’s ridiculously narrow register of lobbyists. Powerful trade bodies, like the British Property Federation, and well-financed lobby groups like London First are exempt from disclosure. None of the above feature on the government’s current sham register.
Only with a robust register, like the one being debated in the Lords on September 9th, would the public know how these powerful developers are shaping our towns and cities.
In the meantime, we are in the dark. The consequences, though, are obvious: a housing crisis affecting every region, which the government is failing to address. This will remain the case while the development industry has a seat inside government.