“It’s time for deputy heads to roll” was the excellent joke on today’s BBC World at One as they reported the resignation of Jeremy Hunt’s special adviser over his wholly inappropriate links with the Murdoch empire in the middle of a quasi-judicial process to determine the outcome of News Corp’s proposed takeover of BSkyB.
Certainly it stretches credulity that Mr Hunt knoew nothing about what his special adviser was doing – and the whole episode is another demonstration of disturbingly close links between the Conservative Party and lobbyists.
The people of St Albans and Park Street are waiting for the outcome of their own quasi-judicial process, namely the final decision on the Helioslough freight terminal.
Here too it turns out that there has been a wholly inappropriate exchange of views – or to use the technical term, “lunch” – between a Conservative-linked lobbyist and the Conservative transport minister – see my previous post.
While the Murdoch/News International saga will run and run – I suspect a number of senior Conservative and Labour politicians will be looking back at their appointment books and wondering whether they will be next in the frame – we are in the end game with the Park Street Freight Terminal.
I still think that changes in road usage following the M1/M25 widenings should have been considered. But given no new inquiry and simply the request to review the implications of the new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) for the proposal, St Albans District Council legal department has played a blinder in its submission.
Taking the different sections of the NPPF, they argue that the scheme does not meet the definition of sustainable development, which is what the NPPF sets out to promote. So there is no change in the reasons why Park Street should not go ahead. Meanwhile they argue that the NPPF has strengthened the case for the potential alternative Colnbrook site near Slough, which was cited by the Secretary of State when he overturned the Inspector and rejected the scheme.
The trouble is that lawyers can make words mean whatever they want. I salute our lawyers but Helioslough will have spared no expense in getting their lawyers to present a different interpretation.
News International was embarrassed into ending its bid to acquire 100 percent of BSkyB. It was the right result. The Park Street decision now rests on Eric Pickles. Is it too much to hope that an old-fashioned sense of shame over the sleazy lobbyist lunch will prompt the right result when the Secretary of State makes his final ruling?
We’ll have to wait till June to find out.
PS The full text of the council’s letter is here.