We recently ran a story on our website about the relationship between L&G, who the Reverend Rees is gifting Arena island to, and the Tory government under Theresa May. Now we learn that the global pension player turned property developer continues to maintain strong links to the Tories under Johnson.
A Freedom of Information request to the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, contains an account of a meeting between the Minister for Housing and Planning, Esther McVey, and L&G on 27 January 2020. Topics included the greenbelt. L&G got to tell the Tory minister, “the entire country was not for protecting the Green Belt as a blanket rule”.
They also got to express concern about “the planning capability of local authorities,” stating they would pay a premium to get planning applications fast tracked. Explaining, “when large scale developments are delayed by slow decision making, the financial cost of delay is greater than it would cost to contribute to planning upscaling”.
McVey agreed to “take this point onboard as she considers further work”. Meanwhile, “the Minister was eager to know what L&G thought government has to do to speed up the release of public land”!
On the plus side, at least Tory ministers take minutes. Unlike BCC who gave Arena Island away at a private unminuted meeting at L&G’s offices in London attended by Rees’s dodgy property supremo Colin “Headboy” Molton, now at WECA.
Closer to home, the council has just published a VEAP for their Arena Island deal. A document used to avoid legal action by acknowledging they may have acted unlawfully in terms of regulation.
Tells us all we need to know about Rees’s shit deal with L&G
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.