“It’s not democracy”: conservatives accused of selling themselves to developers | Preservatives
The prominent role played by a large housing construction company and a Conservative donor at last week’s Conservative Party conference has been called “terrifying” by a leading environmentalist who founded one of the projects. most successful rewilding events in England.
Isabella Tree, co-owner of the Knepp Estate in West Sussex and author of Savage, his 2018 book on how to turn deficit farmland into the biggest rewilding experiment in the lowlands of England, said the “comfortable” relationship between developers such as Thakeham, who in fact sponsored parts of the conference, and the Conservative Party, was deeply concerning and threatening to green causes.
Addressing a meeting on the sidelines of the conference in Manchester last week, Tree said it was “very disturbing” that Thakeham, who has given more than £ 500,000 to the Tories since 2017, has the biggest booth at the entrance to the event, sponsored a meeting, hosted an aperitif and had his name on cords worn by everyone with a pass to the four day event.
At the meeting, where she spoke about Project Knepp and the government’s green agenda, which she largely enthusiastically supports, she pointed to the cord and said, “What is this? It is not democracy. It’s like a noose around my neck. There is a lot of money in this room which calls for more house building. Where is the money crying out for nature?
Thakeham hopes to build 3,500 homes right next to the Knepp Estate – a move that conservationists say threatens the rewilding program and the ambition to create a protected wildlife corridor between the estate and the forests of St Leonard’s and Ashdown. “It will destroy our ability to connect with nature forever,” Tree said.
Talk to Observer she highlighted how Thakeham extended his influence on local politics and life in West Sussex. “My son plays for the local rugby club and he has to wear a shirt with Thakeham Homes written on it,” she said. “It’s extraordinary.”
Last week, as controversy over Thakeham’s role grew, Adrian Lee resigned his post as chairman of the local Horsham Conservative Association over fears that a job he held in the external affairs team at Thakeham since August could be considered a conflict of interest.
Election Commission figures show 13% of Tory donations now come from developers – at a time when Boris Johnson is pushing for more homes to be built, while underscoring his commitment to green causes and the fight against change climate.
In his conference address last Wednesday, Johnson said he wanted to “rewild” more rural places and welcomed the return of beavers and otters to rivers in areas where natural habitats had been restored. The Prime Minister said: “If it’s not conservative, my friends, I don’t know what it is – rebuild the beaver,” I said.
The dispute over Thakeham’s plans for Buck Barn, a 3,500-home development in West Sussex, is one of many difficult issues facing Michael Gove in his new role at the housing cabinet. Johnson has pledged 300,000 new homes per year, to make housing more affordable for young people. But that, along with planning reforms already suspended by Gove, has alarmed many conservatives in the southern seats and caused dismay among environmentalists, who fear damage to wildlife sites.
Thakeham Homes said he also paid to attend the Labor Party conference in Brighton and attended the Liberal Democrats’ virtual conference.
“At the Conservative Party conference,” he said, “we are paying to exhibit in the main hall, alongside other businesses and charities such as Royal Mail, the NFU and Guide Dogs for the Blind. As before, we sponsored the conference cords, which are free for participants.
“At all conferences in 2021, Thakeham hosted side events to support the creation of sustainable communities with our creation of industry-leading carbon-free places. Side-event events are being held on a wide range of topics, from environment to defense to education to help stimulate debate and share ideas for the future. These side events are open to all conference attendees – in the same way that Isabella Tree was a panelist at the Conservative Environmental Network side events.
“In 2021, Thakeham donated £ 100,000 to the Conservative and Unionist Party. These donations were registered with the Election Commission.