The leader of Northumberland County Council and a landowner have welcomed a letter of apology that followed independent audit findings into allegations about a major planning application on the outskirts of Morpeth.
An audit was carried out last year after three letters of complaint were received by the chief executive of the local authority around the proposal submitted for land west of Lancaster Park.
It said that the allegations were ‘without foundation’ and due planning process was properly followed.
An article was also published on the Morpeth and Wansbeck Conservatives Association (MWCA) website referring to the planning application that had been made by Mitford Estate LLP, which is owned by Bruce and Freddy Shepherd.
Now a letter of apology has been published on behalf of Richard Wearmouth as chairman of the MWCA. It includes the following: ‘An independent auditors’ report published in November 2016 confirmed that the process surrounding Mitford Estate LLP’s planning application had not been subject to any improper influence, and that due planning process had been properly followed.
‘Both Mr Wearmouth and the MWCA wish to apologise unreservedly to the Shepherd family and to Mitford Estate LLP for implying that their conduct in relation to the planning application had been anything other than honest and entirely professional at all times, and they sincerely regret the upset and embarrassment caused.
‘Mr Wearmouth, on behalf of the MWCA, has agreed to make a donation to the motor neurone disease and pulmonary fibrosis charities.’
County council leader Grant Davey said: “The independent audit thoroughly examined all the complaints and allegations made around this planning application.
“It is very disappointing when comments and insinuations are made against councillors and officers that are clearly untrue, but have serious potential to bring this authority into disrepute.
“I note the apology from the MWCA to the Shepherds and Mitford Estate LLP and the donation which is being made to two charities.
“I hope this will make people think carefully before making unfounded allegations in the public arena.”
Bruce Shepherd said: “This outcome demonstrates that we acted in a professional way right throughout the planning process.”
The auditors said such allegations and insinuations have the potential to bring the authority and individual officers and elected members into serious disrepute.
Their report also stated: ‘No evidence was found to substantiate these assertions, which appear to be without foundation and instead based on hearsay, supposition and conjecture.
‘Northumberland County Council’s strategic planning committee clearly considered the applications, listened to officers’ advice, but formed their own view on whether the application should be approved or refused.’