Johnson urged to intervene in Ministry of Sound row

London mayor Boris Johnson has been urged to intervene in a planning row involving councillors' declarations of interest, allegations against planners and the future of a leading nightclub.

The London Borough of Southwark last month rejected Oakmayne Properties’ application to build a 41-storey, largely residential, tower opposite the Ministry of Sound club.

Officers had recommended approval but councillors from both the ruling Labour group and opposition Liberal Democrats rejected it.

Oakmayne has now asked Johnson to call in the project under his powers over strategic planning applications, arguing that the Liberal Democrats should not have voted because the club has made substantial donations to their party.

The dispute turns on whether occupants of flats in the proposed Eileen House development could take action against the club for noise nuisance, leading to its possible closure.

A club spokesman said its future would be endangered because: "Leading legal counsel has advised that the club would have no defence against a private nuisance claim being pursued by any future resident of these schemes."

But Oakmayne said the club and Eileen House could co-exist.

Southwark’s planning report noted that the area was already noisy and that disturbance from patrons outside the club made little overall difference.

Eileen House occupants might bring noise nuisance actions, but "officers believe that it would be difficult to establish such a claim", the report said.

Any successful claim would lead to mitigation measures that "would be unlikely to result in closure", it said.

Ministry of Sound chief executive Lohan Presencer has asked the Local Government Ombudsman to investigate a September planning meeting at which he said, "officers misled and misinformed councillors and objectors" over Eileen House and another nearby residential development, which was later approved.

He also expressed "unease at the number of former Southwark Council officers working for the applicants".

A council spokesman said: "The Ministry of Sound have made a number of claims to us and we are currently looking in to them."

Presencer said he now hoped to promote a rival development for the Eileen House site that would provide "a new, sustainable vision for this part of the Elephant & Castle".

The dispute about political donations centres on £78,000 given locally and nationally by the club to the Liberal Democrats.

Southwark's Lib Dem group leader Anood al-Samerai disclosed to Planning advice given by council legal director Deborah Collins.

In the legal advice, Collins said: "The risk for your members is that by voting on this application they may either bring themselves into disrepute or be in breach of the rules against using their position improperly to advantage themselves or someone else.

"The question they therefore need to ask themselves is whether they believe they can approach this application with a completely open mind and judge it on its merits irrespective of the potential consequences for your party’s funding. 

"If they believe they can in good conscience do this, and they actually do do this, then they can legitimately take part.  If, on the other hand, they think that this issue will impact on their decision-making, then they should stand down from the committee."

Al-Samerai said: "All our councillors did go into the meeting open-minded to judge the application on its merits and were, therefore, not breaking any rules."

She said Collins had advised that councillors did not need to declare the donations as they did not receive them as individuals.

A spokesman for Southwark Council said: "We are confident that the right advice was given to planning committee members before they considered this particular application and that all of the correct procedures and processes were followed."

But Oakmayne chairman Christopher Allen said: "For half of the committee to ignore what appears to be clear legal advice and vote against a development, which council planning officers had positively recommended twice for approval … is absolutely shocking.

"Given the circumstances we hope the mayor of London will decide to determine this matter quickly. Public confidence in local Liberal Democrat councillors’ ability to determine this application objectively and fairly has been very badly damaged by this whole episode."

The Ministry of Sound said it had donated to all three main political parties.

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