Mayor makes a first gaffe’ by hiring Sir Simon

BORIS Johnson has been attacked by Westminster's disgruntled Labour councillors over his appointment of Sir Simon Milton as a key adviser

Susanna Wilkey

BORIS Johnson has been attacked by Westminster's disgruntled Labour councillors over his appointment of Sir Simon Milton as a key adviser.

Last Wednesday Johnson appointed former Westminster Council leader Sir Simon Milton as his senior planning adviser - one of the most powerful positions in his team.

Sir Simon's civil partner is Cllr Robert Davis is also the planning boss at Westminster Council.

During question time at a full council meeting last week councillors interrogated Cllr Davis about his partner's appointment to the mayor's team and the potential conflicts of interest it created.

Cllr Davis joked he was looking forward to "pillow talk" conversations and a "word in the ear" with Sir Simon about how Westminster planning matters would be dealt with by Mr Johnson.

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Labour councillors are now calling for protocols to be set up to make sure Westminster planning matters are dealt with openly and transparently by the mayor and his advisers.

Leader of the Labour group Cllr Paul Dimoldenberg has written to Westminster Council and the Greater London Authority (GLA) demanding reassurances that key planning decisions will not be made behind closed doors.

He said: "I am extremely concerned about the clear conflicts of interest which have arisen following Sir Simon Milton's appointment as senior planning adviser to the Mayor.

"As the comments made by Cllr Davis demonstrate here, clearly there is a fundamental need to set down clear protocols which govern the activities of Cllr Milton.

"Otherwise planning decisions affecting Westminster will be made between those two in the privacy of their own home and that is not good for democracy and not good for Westminster.

"I think this was Boris Johnson's first major appointment and it has turned out to be his first major gaffe."

Cllr Dimoldenberg wants assurances Sir Simon will not in any way be involved in planning decisions affecting Westminster in the interests of total transparency and open government.

A spokeswoman for the mayor said: "Current safeguards mean that the Mayor of London is not allowed to delegate planning decisions to Sir Simon Milton, because he has no executive authority - he is a non-executive adviser.

"In addition, there is an impartial planning decisions unit at the GLA that is legally bound to give impartial advice to the mayor on planning decisions, and the mayor is legally bound to take account of such advice.

"Planning law is currently very robust to protect against any possible conflicts of interest."

|A Westminster Council spokesman claimed that any potential conflicts of interest could be avoided.

He said: "Councillors fully declare personal and professional interests.

"Sir Simon Milton is yet to take up his appointment, but will be abiding by the GLA code of conduct.

"As a councillor he will not be participating in planning matters affecting Westminster Council and, when he takes office, will establish a protocol to ensure that there are clear rules about any potential conflicts of interest."