“The past is history…We have to move on.” So said Leeds City Council leader Keith Wakefield yesterday evening in response to a call for a full explanation of what happened when associates of private sector developers attempted to hijack a council-led committee being set up to oversee housing and regeneration in east Leeds.
Hold on a minute, councillor. It’s not history yet.
It only becomes history when we know what happened. And last night’s full council session brought us not much closer to the truth about who in the council and outside of it were responsible for the mess that could have seriously compromised the council’s reputation as a transparent planning authority.
If the hijack had succeeded, the council’s long-standing development plans for east Leeds (the Aire Valley Enterprise Zone and the East and South East Leeds regeneration initiative EASEL) could effectively have been put to one side in favour of a plan dreamt up, as one councillor put it yesterday, by “private developers, tax exiles, multi-millionaires”.
At the heart of the controversy are a series of papers drawn up and distributed ahead of a planned first meeting of the committee, a sub board of the council-led Leeds Initiative’s Housing and Regeneration Board.
The papers gave the committee inordinate control over future development in east Leeds, were highly critical of the Council’s executive, and openly promoted a private sector initiative known as New East Leeds, led by the local Chamber of Commerce and developers involved in the Thorpe Park business area.
The papers also included a proposed make-up of the council-led committee/sub-board that included three officers of the Chamber of Commerce, with local Labour MP George Mudie as the chair and the Council’s Executive Member for Neighbourhoods, Housing and Regeneration Peter Gruen as deputy.
On his own admission, it was Cllr Gruen who was responsible for involving “the private sector” in drafting some of the papers in the first place. While admitting at last night’s Council session that he had made mistakes and hadn’t “paid sufficient attention to the process”, Cllr Gruen would not say who wrote the papers or who distributed them.
Not a flicker of Labour interest
Credit where it’s due, Cllr Wakefield pulled the meeting as soon as he saw the “unacceptable” papers. But it leaves you wondering:
Would the papers have been written in the first place without someone in the council telling the authors they could get away with it? It seems unlikely. Would the papers have been distributed without the authority of someone senior at the council? Unlikely. Would local MP George Mudie have been proposed as chair of this powerful new sub-board without having been asked first? Unlikely too.
From the Labour side of the Council chamber last night there was not a flicker of interest from a single councillor in establishing the truth.
That’s democracy (and regeneration) for you. But one thing it ain’t yet is history.