Sunday, 18 April 2010

The Shard


Former Prescott adviser’s secret demand for £1m - over ‘Shard of Glass’ tower his ex-boss approved


By JASON LEWIS
Last updated at 9:55 PM on 17th April 2010

David Taylor, a former special adviser and friend of Mr Prescott, asked for the money from developers after Mr Prescott overruled objectors and gave planning consent for the giant Shard of Glass skyscraper in London.

Mr Taylor’s demands came to light during a court case, which heard he asked for the ‘retrospective payment’ for his assistance, including ‘using his wide contacts in government’.
Height of controversy: An artist's impression of the planned Shard of Glass tower in London
Height of controversy: An artist's impression of the planned Shard of Glass tower in London
Last night, Mr Taylor, a development management specialist and member of the Olympic Delivery Authority, denied any impropriety but confirmed he had discussed his involvement in the project with Mr Prescott once at a social event.
The Shard of Glass will become Europe’s tallest building when it is completed on the south bank of the Thames in London in 2012. 
Work on the 87-storey skyscraper only began after an inquiry headed by Mr Prescott, who was Deputy Prime Minister at the time. Objectors had complained about the building’s impact on the Tower of London and St Paul’s Cathedral.
The Mail on Sunday can reveal that Mr Prescott’s decision to approve the Shard triggered the demands by Mr Taylor.
During a dispute between three developers over the size of their stake in the project, the Royal Court of Jersey heard Mr Taylor had a confidential ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ with millionaire Irvine Sellar to assist in getting approval from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.
Mr Taylor demanded his identity be kept secret and that other senior figures on the project – including one of Mr Sellar’s multimillionaire partners – were not told of his involvement, the court heard. 
A director of the Shard’s holding company, responsible for paying the bills, told the court that it was only after a long-running argument about where the £1million was going that Mr Sellar finally disclosed Mr Taylor’s name.
John Prescott David Taylor
Dispute: John Prescott (left) is at the centre of a row after his former advisor David Taylor (right) asked for money from developers of the Shard of Glass tower
The case in 2005 was abandoned when it was settled out of court.
In a witness statement, Mr Sellar, who is worth a reputed £210million, said: ‘I regret that the proposed payment to Mr Taylor was not openly disclosed.’ 
Mr Sellar, the head of Sellar Property Group, which has a portfolio of buildings worth £800million, said he first asked for Mr Taylor’s help with the Shard in 2002.
He said: ‘He told me at the outset that in his opinion we had about a one in ten chance of succeeding.’
He persuaded Mr Taylor to help him as ‘a general strategic adviser’ who would only be paid if they succeeded in getting planning consent.

‘The agreement was essentially a gentlemen’s agreement, not recorded in writing, that Sellar [Properties] would provide him with a success fee of £1million.’

Mr Sellar said that Mr Taylor agreed to review all documents being submitted to the planning inquiry and help direct the case.
He added that Mr Taylor had also agreed ‘if and when he believed it proper to do so, using his wide contacts in government to put the regeneration case for the project in order to counter the much louder voices which the opposing heritage groups would undoubtedly have’.
Mr Sellar explained: ‘Mr Taylor wanted his involvement in the project kept confidential. I understood that it would not help his own position on his other work if he were seen... to be working on behalf of a developer on a project such as this.

'I therefore agreed that I would not give out his name and would keep his involvement confidential.’

Last night, Mr Taylor denied any impropriety but admitted his role was kept secret to block suggestions he was using his links to Mr Prescott. And he performed an amazing about-turn by first denying ever speaking to Mr Prescott about the Shard and then admitting he had mentioned it once.

Mr Taylor first said: ‘At the time there was enormous sensitivity [about] people [suggesting I was] going to run off and speak to politicians. But it is not what I do. 
‘I had long since severed any special adviser connections with Mr Prescott and, yes, I know him and I am a friend of his. Like everybody else associated with him you get caught in the flak from time to time.
‘I am aware that people often jump to conclusions about connections you have...[but] I am telling you categorically that I never once discussed the project with Mr Prescott. The fact that you worked with someone or remain a friend with them – on that basis I would never work again.’
In a later statement issued to The Mail on Sunday, he said the idea that he had sought to keep his role secret was entirely ‘without foundation’.

He also backtracked on his earlier claim never to have spoken to Mr Prescott about the Shard.

He said: ‘For the avoidance of doubt, I only ever mentioned the project once to Mr Prescott during a social event...in July 2002. 
The entire substance of that conversation was me mentioning to Mr Prescott that I was working on the project.’
He said they did not discuss the project in detail and ‘at no time before or since then has the project been discussed between us’.
Mr Taylor also complained that he did not receive the £1million.

He said: ‘I am a planning adviser. I get paid a fee. Because of the dispute between the partners I was only ever paid a fraction of that fee – which for the work that I did it was probably pretty poor pay. I didn’t get any £1million pound bonus.’

Last night Mr Prescott said: ‘The Shard was originally granted planning permission by Southwark Council and endorsed by the Mayor of London, but I still called it in for a planning inquiry by the Planning Inspectorate because I recognised it was controversial.

The Planning Inspectorate fully endorsed Southwark Council’s planning application and I therefore signed off on it.’