An old FoI request about the dodgy Bristol City Council/L&G Arena island deal catches the eye. It reveals L&G execs operating inside Number 10 [Downing Street] in 2015 and meeting Bristol City council property bosses who were supposed to be building an arena on the controversial site:
The bizarre deal The Reverend has now struck with L&G execs is that they get the prime Arena Island site after £32m of public investment and BCC get a 40 year lease on one of the proposed L&G corporate office slabs proposed for the site … And both sides get to avoid any procurement or open sale that might upset the cosy arrangement.
But what the hell were L&G execs doing in Downing Street at the heart of power in 2015? The answer is John Godfrey, L&G’s longtime Corporate Affairs Director – basically their chief political lobbyist. The former Tory Parliamentary candidate worked at Number Ten as Head of Policy for Prime Minister Theresa May from 2015-17. At the time, this L&G/Downing Street revolving door generated headlines in the Financial Times like, “Legal & General gives Toryism a reboot“.
At the same time the Legal & General CEO was musing on his blog that “UK cities are not overbuilt but under-demolished”. The company also developed an interest in fiscal policy (basically government spending money on infrastructure); called on taxpayers to invest with savings groups such as, er, L&G and argued that planning laws should be eased to defeat ‘Nimbies’.
Alongside L&G’s political capture of Downing Street, another front opened. In 2016, John Kingman was appointed Group Chairman of Legal and General plc. Prior to this, Kingman was a senior Treasury official and, among other things, led a research project looking at the tax treatment of buy-to-let property, which led to major policy changes in the 2015 Budget.
The specific change was Section 24 of the Finance Act 2015-16, setting mortgage tax allowance for individual landlords to 20 per cent. A change that didn’t apply to corporate landlords or property rental companies. Corporates, effectively, were allowed to operate at a state-engineered advantage to smaller competitors in the property market.
With the political and legal environment in place to fill their boots, L&G now required gullible twerps from the provinces who think they’re big shot property players with access to public land. Please step forward on 12 December 2017 Marvin’s £1.5k a day ‘property expert’ Colin Molton.
He walked into L&G’s offices in London desperate to offload Arena Island quickly so that the Reverend’s favoured multinational, YTL, could dodge the ‘sequential test‘ designed to favour inner city sites over out-of-town and get planning permission for an arena in Filton. L&G were happy to oblige with a self-serving deal and advice on how BCC could dodge procurement regulations and hand them the land.
As an added sweetener May’s L&G-friendly Downing Street operation stepped up, hinting to the Reverend and Molton that £100m of government money was on the table towards the Temple Quarter regeneration.
However, since the demise of May in 2019, L&G’s influence in the corridors of power has waned and the Johnson government with its levelling-up agenda focussed on the Red Wall seems uninterested in handing over £100m to the Reverend to regenerate Temple Meads.
In fact, they’ve now knocked back two funding applications from Bristol. Leaving the people of Bristol shortchanged and Tory L&G with a prime piece of public land in Bristol to cash in on.
What a scam.