Fireworks begin too early for the City of London Corporation
This Saturday the 684th lord mayor will be inaugurated to great fanfare at the annual Lord Mayor’s Show at St Paul’s and the Victorian Embankment.
But while mums and dads sip mulled wine and prop little ones up on their shoulders, fireworks of a less welcomed nature have already begun as campaigners accuse the current lord mayor, Michael Bear, of pursuing a major conflict of interest over land purchases.
Members of the Barbican Association are questioning the City of London Corporation’s decision to allow a major development in the Barbican area – London Wall Place – arguing that the developer, Hammerson, was given the green light despite of local opposition because Bear is a Hammerson employee.
Bear took up his post as lord mayor during a year-long sabbatical from Hammerson.
A spokesperson for the Corporation told the LondonlovesBusiness.com that because Bear doesn’t serve on the property investment board, there is no conflict of interest.
The development in question, London Wall Place, consists of two developments: a 300,00 sq ft, 12 storeys building, and a 16 storey tower with floors measuring 12,000 sq ft.
Dismissing further any claims of a conflict of interest, the Corporation said: “[We are] certainly not beholden to the interests of any single firm – be it a property developer, a law firm or a bank.
“If it were, rival firms would simply refuse to do business in the City and it would certainly not be the global financial powerhouse it is today.”
In a report in the Guardian newspaper, deputy chair of the Barbican Association, Tim Macer, disagreed and is quoted as saying: “We feel that the Corporation is pretty conflicted over this.
“The commercial viability of the scheme was based on how much Hammerson had to put into it and how much the Corporation had to put into it. Because of the way planning works, there was all this pre-planning consultation. But it was basically the City having conversations with the City. It was bizarre and of course it meant that they had the inside track.”
The Corporation refutes this, arguing that, just as with other operators in this sector, the authority’s activities in the property market have to be fair and open in order to succeed.
The Corporation also claims that the developers scaled down the development did as a result of an extensive consultation process – a factor it says has been formally recognised by the Association.
Office space in London has been a growing concern for London authorities – least not for the Corporation, which represents business interests in the Square Mile.
Fears over London’s lack of office space were fuelled further earlier this year when research by BNP Paribas Real Estate suggested that London’s banks will require 1.6 million sq ft of space in Central London over the next three years – equivalent to four Shards or five Heron Towers.
There are circa 9,000 residents in the City of London district. When asked about balancing residents’ and businesses’ interests, the Corporation responded:
“Our residents’ concerns are always a high priority for the City of London Corporation. In a recent survey, 95 per cent of our residents claimed they are either ‘satisfied’ or ‘very satisfied’ with the level of service they receive, this is one of the highest levels of satisfaction in the entire country.
“Developments such as [London Wall] are hugely important to the City’s on-going competitiveness and I am confident that, after a long and open period of consultation, our Planning and Transportation Committee came to the right decision for the Square Mile’s resident population.”
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However, the action group Reclaim the City, which calls for reform in the in the Corporation, is vowing to stage an alternative procession, including commemorating an alternative lord mayor, on the same day as the Lord Mayor’s Show.
Dismissing fears of any disruption, the Corporation said: “The lord mayor show is going to go ahead. It’s taken months of preparation and we will have arrangements in place to ensure that it goes without a hitch. We’re expecting a level of protest but we don’t have a problem with protests as long as it peaceful.
“This isn’t about pomp, and the City showing its wealth. A lot of the show is focussed on floats, community floats and charities.”