Monday, 18 January 2021

MP dismisses claim that he gave developer advice

MP dismisses claim that he gave developer advice

JOHN HOWELL has hit back at claims that his paid advisory role with a PR firm for housing developers conflicts with his duties as Henley’s MP.

Ginny Buckley, a motoring journalist and television presenter from Shiplake, told her 7,000 Twitter followers last week that Mr Howell was made an associate of SP Broadway, of Bampton, in September last year.

This is true but she also claimed the firm helped developer Taylor Wimpey to win a planning appeal for 95 homes at Thames Farm, off Reading Road in Shiplake, which residents and the parish council opposed.

Although SP Broadway has worked with Taylor Wimpey in the past, it says it did not help to publicise the proposals.

In fact, the original planning application was submitted to South Oxfordshire District Council by Claire Engbers, the landowner, who won an appeal following a High Court battle almost two years before Mr Howell was appointed.

The MP, who is paid £800 a month for two hours’ work, says he frequently spoke out against the proposal and even raised concerns about a planning inspector’s decision to allow it in a press release issued by SP Broadway.

Ms Buckley, a presenter on BBC’s Escape to the Country and ITV’s Tonight, wrote on Twitter that she wanted to talk to Mr Howell about “giving paid advice that goes against the best interest of your constituents”.

She referred to Taylor Wimpey’s plans to divert surface water from the development into the Thames via a new pipeline, which have angered villagers, adding: “A development you helped push through as part of your highly paid planning consultancy work.”

Mr Howell, who ran his own housing PR firm before entering politics, told the Henley Standard that under a clause in his contract with SP Broadway, he had agreed not to provide advice on any work within his consituency.

He said: “I’m an associate of a communications firm and provide strategic advice but have not helped any particular company, nor did I serve anywhere near the time that Thames Farm was being decided.

“I also took up the issues surrounding Thames Farm very strongly and have been very publicly critical in the way that it was handled.

“Social media is a law unto itself and people think they can say whatever they like to figures they’ve elected. I don’t know what can be done but I have far more important things to deal with.”

Ms Buckley is a former presenter of the BBC’s Holiday and Watchdog programme and was the News of the World’s motoring editor.

She lives near Lash Brook into which Taylor Wimpey is seeking permission to divert surface water from Thames Farm via the pipeline. Neighbours fear this will worsen the existing flooding problem.

Mr Howell supported the residents’ campaign for a full flood risk assessment to be conducted, which the developer has agreed to.

Since his appointment, SP Broadway has also paid Mr Howell £3,100 for 10 hours’ additional work.

According to the House of Commons’ register of members’ interests, he has no other income besides his MP’s salary.

SP Broadway said it was not currently acting for Taylor Wimpey and never worked on Thames Farm.

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