Lodge Hill Brownfield Land? (c) Miles King
While both the UKIP and Tory candidates for the Rochester and Strood byelection have changed their minds in dramatic fashion, I was curious to know more about why Labour is supporting the development of a new town of 5000 houses on Lodge Hill SSSI.
I noticed a reference in the press to the Labour candidate Naushabah Khan working in public relations. I looked a little further and found that she was an account manager at Curtin & Co, who specialise in doing PR work for housing developers. Imagine my surprise when I looked up who Curtin’s clients were – they include Land Securities, who are the developers at Lodge Hill.
Khan was forced to defend Labour’s housing policies (such as they are) from her own firm, who had been commissioned to carry out a survey of public views on Labour’s policies of, for example, taking land off developers who have land-banked it. It’s not clear who commissioned Curtin to carry out the survey (which was actually carried out in February) but presumably it was a housing developer.
Curtin don’t currently have the contract for doing PR and “community engagement” on Lodge Hill for Land Securities. This contract is, at the moment, with PPS under Andy Martin. Martin has a long standing involvement in local politics with the Liberal Democrats. The Lib Dems on Medway Council support the Tories on the Lodge Hill development. Curtin has recently taken on former Cambridgeshire County Council leader Martin Curtis as a Director of their “community politics” team.
PPS has just been taken over by Porta Communications and Merged with Newgate Communications. Porta and Newgate were both created by David Wright, who founded Citigate communications. Citi is a top Lobbying firm owned by Lord Chadlington, John Selwyn Gummer’s brother, who I have written about before. Small world, eh? Citi are also long standing advisers to Land Securities.
Curtin ousted PPS as the PR Agency Land Securities are using for their 15000 house Ebbsfleet development, just down the road from Lodge Hill. PPS has a long history and expertise in the use of subterfuge, or dirty tricks, to get developments through planning. Take a look.
Khan has evidently done a good job promoting the development of Lodge Hill to the constituents of Rochester and Strood, while standing as the Labour candidate. She may have made some headway by claiming that the site is 80% brownfield – this is a convenient mistake, given Labour’s policy to increase the focus of development on brownfield sites. The Planning Inspector who rejected Medway’s core strategy concluded it was closer to 15% brownfield, than the 53% Land Securities claimed. In any case, it’s irrelevant how much brownfield the site is, as it’s an SSSI. Something Khan has been keen to avoid talking about.
After the byelection tomorrow, when it seems very likely that UKIP will win, the Government will have to decide whether to call in the Lodge Hill planning application to be subject to a Public Inquiry. We can expect Land Securities to be lobbying furiously behind the scenes (with some suitably worded articles in the media placed by their PR consultants) to make sure that the hard-won planning permission is not called in. Land Securities will no doubt be looking very carefully at their current consultants PPS, and considering whether they want a new bunch to take over, at this critical juncture. Perhaps they’ll decide to take on Curtin and Co.
It can sometimes be very difficult to differentiate politics and business can’t it, whichever party you look at.