Labour chief whip 'conspired to fix planning applications' (From East London and West Essex Guardian Series)
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Labour chief whip Cllr Azfal Akram 'conspired to fix controversial planning applications' in Waltham Forest
The chief whip of the Labour Party in Waltham Forest tried to fix the outcome of controversial planning applications relating to mosques by threatening a councillor with deselection, his colleague has claimed.
Cllr Azfal Akram is accused of trying to pressurise Cllr Karen Bellamy into supporting proposals for a mosque in Higham Hill, Walthamstow.
He is also said to have urged her to vote through a mosque expansion in Chingford Mount Road and the conversion of Leytonstone's Colgrave Arms pub into a mosque at a meeting in September 2012.
In addition, he is alleged to have put further pressure on another of his Labour colleagues and planning committee member, Cllr Ebony Vincent.
The Higham Hill application was not submitted or discussed at the September meeting, but the other two were.
The committee agreed with the recommendation of officers on the items, rejecting the Chingford application but approving the Leytonstone one.
The allegations were made by chairman of the planning committee, Cllr Peter Barnett.
He said the alleged attempts could expose the council to legal challenges over decisions to approve other controversial applications, such as the bid to build a housing estate at Walthamstow Stadium.
Cllr Akram denies the allegations.
The Labour Party announced it had suspended Cllr Akram as chief whip in October last year, but no details of the allegations were made public.
Now the full content of Cllr Barnett's complaint has been published ahead of a meeting of councillors to discuss the claims on Monday January 21.
Cllr Barnett claims Cllr Akram spoke to Cllr Bellamy prior to the meeting and then put pressure on both her and Cllr Vincent during it by using eye contact and gesticulating.
Cllr Akram also sent Cllr Bellamy a text message during the discussion of the Colgrave Arms item, which said: "I HOPE YOU ARE GOING TO SUPPORT THIS ONE".
Then a week later Cllr Vincent told Cllr Barnett she had received a phone call from the owner of the Star of India restaurant in Leytonstone, Shah Ahmed.
Cllr Barnett said: "He [Mr Ahmed] asked councillor Ebony Vincent to thank me on his behalf as he was told by councillor Afzal Akram...that he (Afzal Akram) had reached a deal with me over application 2012/0028 [Colgrave Arms] to predetermine the outcome.
"I completely refute these allegations".
He added: "These matters must be investigated or it calls in to question all recent decisions of the planning committee.
"The EMD, and the dog track could be called in for a judicial review because of suspected predetermination.
"I would finally state both myself and all other members of the planning committee make decisions on planning issues only".
In his evidence to the panel, Cllr Akram said he did not put pressure on any councillors and said the text message to Cllr Bellamy was "tongue in cheek".
Cllr Akram added he had discussed the application with Cllr Bellamy but was only answering her questions about what the reaction would be from the Muslim community if she did vote against it.
He claimed that the allegations are malicious because Cllr Barnett was worried that Cllr Akram would change the people on the committee.
He said: "I think I am being got at by Councillor Barnett or there is a wider conspiracy.
"This sort of thing happens around selection time.
"Cllr Barnett has had it in for me for a while. He lost his position in 2008, I think, as Chief Whip to a councillor I put up and supported."
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