Pressure grows on Lipton in planning conflict row

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Sir Stuart Lipton, the chairman of the Commission for Architecture in the Built Environment (Cabe), was under mounting pressure last night after it emerged that lawyers representing one of London's biggest boroughs are to present evidence to a government review of the powerful property quango.

The Department of Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) said on Monday that it had asked independent auditors to launch a review of conflict-of-interest issues at Cabe, following a report in The Independent.

Cabe is a government-funded body that reviews planning applications for large commercial property developments, and its opinions carry weight with local planning authorities considering whether to grant permission for new schemes.

The audit will examine the commercial interests of Sir Stuart, who is also chairman and majority shareholder of Stanhope, the commercial property developer. It will also examine the commercial interests of Cabe's commissioners, a number of whom have financial interests in Stanhope.

Wragge & Co, solicitors representing the London Borough of Croydon, have written to Tessa Jowell at the DCMS asking to contribute evidence to the review in relation to a development of the Croydon Gateway site.

Stanhope submitted proposals for the development of the Croydon site with a largely office-based scheme. The letter from Croydon's lawyers, sent to the DCMS on Wednesday, claimed the Stanhope proposals were in direct conflict with the local planning authority's policies for a mixed-use scheme. The letter said the council had also looked at proposals that were in keeping with its policies.

"Our clients also understand that other Cabe commissioners have been engaged by Stanhope as part of their consultants' team on this project both in support of its own proposals and to criticise those of their rival," the letter said.

In the context of Sir Stuart's dual role as chairman of both Cabe and Stanhope, the letter concludes: "We add for consideration at this stage the thought that it is in our view inconceivable that a local planning authority would appoint to the chair of its development control committee a councillor who is the chairman of a property development company with interests in the borough...."

Cabe's director of design review at Croydon said: "From our point of view this was a straightforward case. We dealt with both applications. We have a panel of people looking at planning applications. They think about them and in both these cases our committee found both positive and negative things to say about them."