Westminster councillor resigns after developer hospitality probe finds conduct code breach

The Westminster councillor at the centre of a row over hospitality he received from property developers while acting as the chair of a planning committee has resigned after an investigation found that he had breached the authority's code of conduct.

Former Westminster councillor Robert Davis
Former Westminster councillor Robert Davis

In February, The Guardian ran a series of articles on the gifts and entertainment accepted by Robert Davis, a Westminster Conservative councillor who stepped down from chairing the council’s planning committee in January last year after 17 years.

Davis, the paper reported, had been entertained on 514 separate occasions between 2015 and 2018 by "developers, big business and other interests".

Davis, who has denied any wrongdoing, subsequently referred himself to the council’s monitoring officer in March. The monitoring officer then appointed a QC to work on an investigation into the allegations.

Davis stood down from his current roles as deputy leader and cabinet member for business, culture and heritage while the investigation was undertaken.

According to today’s Guardian, Sir Stephen Lamport, the QC appointed to oversee the investigation, has concluded in his report that Davis’s judgement was found "wanting" and his "acceptance of gifts and hospitality from developers before or after a planning decision may … have placed him in a position in which people might seek to influence him in the performance of his duties".

The paper reported that Lamport said he had not seen any evidence that happened, nor of any inappropriate conduct or illegality but it still amounted to a prima facie breach of the council's code of conduct, which will now be examined by the council’s standards committee.

Lamport's report went on to say that the scale of the hospitality received by Davis was "extraordinary".

Lamport said Davis’ acceptance of such a volume of gifts and hospitality "lay open his reputation, and therefore that of the council, to a perception – fairly or unfairly – that called into question his personal responsibility to promote high standards of conduct".

Planning approached Westminster City Council for a copy of the report but it is not yet available. However, a spokesman for the council confirmed the details reported by The Guardian.

A statement from Davis said he was resigning from the council with immediate effect following 36 years in local government.

He said: "My approach to [hospitality] declarations has always been to be honest, open and transparent. I have nothing to hide."

Davis said the report had "confirmed that none of the declarations I made or hospitality I received influenced decisions I took as a councillor and that nothing I did was unlawful".

However, he added that "they have concluded my actions nevertheless created a perception that was negative to the council. While I dispute this, I wish to draw a line under the matter".

Councillor Nickie Aiken, the Conservative leader of the council, said it was "clear from the report that councillor Davis breached the code of conduct".

"The planning process must be, and be seen to be, impartial. When I became leader I took immediate action to improve how planning decisions are open to scrutiny, making sure all meetings about planning applications take place in council offices with officers present.

"I will be setting out further reforms to our planning process at the conclusion of an independent review I commissioned earlier this year."

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Sign up now
Already registered?
Sign in

Join the conversation with PlanningResource on social media

Follow Us:
Planning Jobs