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‘Bully’ council leader criticised after telling resident they were ’embarrassing themselves’ over advertising


The leader of a North West London council has been accused of being ‘a bully’ after telling a resident they were ‘embarrassing themselves’ by challenging a decision to keep the Wembley tiled murals – which depict major sporting and entertainment events that have taken place over the years – covered by advertising.

At a recent meeting of the Cabinet (May 28), Brent Council opted to side with the recommendation made by council officers and accept a bid from property developers Quintain – who also own the 85-acre Wembley Park development area – which is expected to generate the council at least £400,000 over four years. It will mean both the bridge safety barriers and subway (Referred to as Option B) will be covered with advertising, once again keeping the tiles hidden from public view.

Resident and member of the Wembley History Society, Philip Grant, had started a petition calling for advertising only to be allowed on the safety barriers of the bridge and not on the walls of the subway (Referred to as Option A), which would reveal the murals that have remained hidden for more than ten years. He gave a presentation at Cabinet emphasising the importance of ‘valuing heritage assets’.

However, he feels that a proper vote didn’t take place and, when he tried to raise this as a Point of Order, was shut down by the leader of the council, Cllr Muhammed Butt, who told him he was ‘embarrassing himself’. Mr Grant claimed the officers report was ‘one-sided’ and a proper vote between Cabinet Members did not take place ahead of a decision being made.

He told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS): “I tried to raise my Point of Order because no decision had actually been taken at the meeting. The Council Leader simply declared the officer’s recommendation […] approved, without any Cabinet members putting their hands up to accept it.”

He added: “If the decision had actually been made before the meeting took place, then it was made without considering both sides of the case. That is not good for democracy, and can lead to bad decisions.”

When he approached the microphone, Mr Grant was immediately silenced by Cllr Butt and prevented from speaking. Cllr Butt said he was ‘disappointed’ in him and was ‘embarrassing himself’. Even a member of his own Cabinet, Cllr Neil Nerva, seemed to suggest the council leader should hear the point of order but he too was silenced.

Mr Grant said: ‘I did not feel embarrassed, or that I should feel embarrassed, to point out to the Chair of the meeting that he was acting unreasonably. If anything, he was the one who should feel embarrassed, by failing to hold a proper vote, then trying to shout me down when I raised this as a Point of Order.”

Brent Council told the LDRS that the decision was made ‘on the basis of all Cabinet Members indicating their approval of the recommendations within the report’, which was Option B, and no members indicated that they opposed it. As of May 28, there had been no formal complaint made about the conduct of Cllr Butt.

In response to the altercation, the Leader of the Brent Liberal Democrats, Cllr Anton Georgiou, took to Twitter to call Cllr Butt a ‘bully’. Speaking to the LDRS, he described the Leader’s behaviour as ‘rude and aggressive’ and called for an investigation to determine whether he is ‘adhering to the Nolan Principles of standards in public life’ – selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership.

Cllr Georgiou said: “Mr Grant came to speak to the Cabinet about something that he really cares about and the way he was treated does a massive disservice to the council. Cllr Butt was rude and aggressive, if he can’t conduct business without his emotions getting in the way then he shouldn’t be Leader.”

The Bobby Moore Bridge and subway were constructed in 1991 to pedestrianise Olympic Way ahead of the Euro 1996 football tournament. With support from Wembley Stadium, Brent Council commissioned a large public artwork to decorate the walls of the subway and along Olympic Way. However, in 2013, the council agreed a lease with Quintain, which allowed them to put up advertisements, including vinyl and LED lighting, that hid the murals.

The subway was officially opened in September 1993 by the widow of former World Cup-winning England football captain Sir Bobby Moore, who unveiled a plaque naming the bridge ‘in honour of a football legend’. The plaque is set into one of the mural scenes, which shows England footballers playing at the original Wembley Stadium. As part of the new lease agreement, his plaque will remain on display to the public.

The actual figures that were bid to the council are kept secret from the public as they are deemed ‘commercially sensitive’. The council were asking for any bids to be ‘a minimum of’ £90,000 for just the barriers and £100,000 for the barriers and subway – meaning the difference between the two options could have been as little as £10,000 a year.

A spokesperson for Brent Council said: “Brent’s Cabinet heard from a member of the public who was entitled to address the Cabinet after having submitted a petition in relation to the agenda item about advertising on the Bobby Moore Bridge. The resident was given five minutes to speak. Cabinet then considered the report after which the Leader of the council, who was chairing the meeting, moved the recommendations and Cabinet unanimously agreed in favour of Option B.”

They added: “Unfortunately the member of the public took exception to the decision and repeatedly tried to prevent the progress of the meeting by interrupting the Chair as he was speaking. The Chair is responsible for keeping order at council meetings so progressed matters to the next item as there were many other topics to be discussed.”

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