- Tower Hamlets
A Hackney Conservative councillor has breached codes of conduct and practice, a council standards committee decided last night.
Councillor Michael Levy, a prominent Jewish councillor in the borough, was found to have lent his support to an application for an extension to a house in Stamford Hill, home to Europe’s largest Hasidic and Adeni Jewish communities.
At a planning meeting, Levy failed to declare that he had prior knowledge of the application, but was found to have discussed and had involvement with it before the meeting. This is in breach of the Planning Code of Practice and the Members’ Code of Conduct.
In his defence, Levy said that the application had undergone “material change” since he had originally discussed it with the applicant and various officers, and therefore he did not need to declare his prior knowledge at the planning meeting. In his eyes, it was a new application.
Levy said: “In my view there is no case to answer.”
Levy has been censured by the committee, which is an official acknowledgment of his breach of codes of conduct, and will have to attend relevant training as a result.
Jonathan Stopes-Roe, a local retired civil servant, was appointed by the council as the Independent Person for the case, to oversee the investigation and give impartial views to the standards committee. Stopes-Roe said he “wasn’t surprised at the outcome.”
Femi Nwanze, head of Development Management at the council, described how Levy approached her at a meeting: “I felt that Cllr Levy was in support of this application.” She said he tried to persuade her to support it, using the approval of a similar extension on the same road as a precedent.
Graham Loveland, Assistant Director for Planning and Strategy at the council, emailed a colleague during the planning process describing how Levy pressed him for a decision on the application outside a planning meeting. His message read: “Cllr Levy buttonholed me yesterday evening on this. Are we in crisis?!”
Loveland went on to discuss the wider issue of the Orthodox Jewish community in Hackney and their particular housing needs. Many families are extremely large and often need to increase the size of their homes, meaning the rate of extension applications in the borough is very high.
Loveland described the demand for extensions from the Jewish community as “one of the most pressing issues” for the planning department in Hackney.