A controversial application for a 2,000-home development in Northumberland – the source of a legal dispute between developer and local authority – has been withdrawn.
The plans for the Dissington Garden Village had been earmarked to go back before Northumberland County Council’s strategic planning committee for another decision next Tuesday.
However, it has now been revealed that the scheme has been withdrawn by the applicant, Newcastle-based Lugano, which previously had a minded-to-approve resolution for its proposals for the ‘exemplar’ scheme of homes and other facilities near Ponteland.
But the company is continuing with its High Court action, seeking at least £10million of damages for the way the application has been handled by the council since the Conservative administration took power in May 2017, and says it will resubmit the plans in the future.
Lugano’s claim is against council leader Peter Jackson, cabinet member for planning John Riddle and chief executive Daljit Lally, as well as the local authority itself.
The company’s case is that the trio have acted improperly and unlawfully in relation to its planning application, with the actions, amounting to misfeasance in public office, causing Lugano a serious financial loss.
The defence on behalf of the trio says that ‘the allegations of bad faith made against them are vexatious and without foundation’, while the council’s defence says that the claim against the authority ‘is one that is bound to fail at any event’.
A statement this week from Lugano said: ‘The planning application for Dissington Garden Village has been withdrawn.
‘In a letter to the council, the company’s professional advisors express serious concern over the council’s apparent reversal of position over the past months, despite the positive conclusions and recommendation reached on essentially the same evidence by Northumberland County Council planning officers previously.
‘They note that county council has refused to meet or engage in any meaningful way since the Conservative administration took control and can only conclude that this change of position is purely politically-driven.
‘The company has stated its intention to resubmit plans in the future, but for now will concentrate on ongoing litigation against the council, its leader, chief executive and cabinet member for planning.
‘The decision to withdraw was not taken lightly, but the company expressed that it could no longer tolerate continued attempts to harm its business, reputation and this highly-regarded project.
‘Indeed, the company further noted that as a result of continuous erroneous and misleading statements being made by various members of the administration, it had submitted formal complaints to the council’s standards board noting numerous breaches of the code of conduct.
‘Lugano remains focused on delivering an exemplar garden-village scheme that will showcase the development of garden communities nationally as well as providing much-needed affordable homes and driving innovation, economic growth and the creation of high-quality jobs in the North East.’
A Northumberland County Council spokesman said: “We note the applicant’s decision through their agents to withdraw their planning application.
“We have maintained open communications with the applicant throughout the process of attempting to determine this application and a highly-experienced chartered town planner had been preparing the report based on a full assessment of all material planning considerations. We categorically refute any suggestion there was political interference in this process.
“There have been a number of material planning changes since the application was last considered by committee and, in line with other applications, it was necessary to reconsider the scheme.
“A significant number of planning conditions were also associated with the previous minded-to-support decision, but many of these matters still remain unresolved.
“If a new application is submitted, it will be considered on its own merits through the normal planning process.”
The Local Democracy Reporting Service has learned that the standards complaint made by Lugano and mentioned in its statement refers to actions and statements made by Coun Jackson as well as comments by fellow Conservatives, Couns Nick Oliver and David Bawn, in the press and council meetings.
A county-council spokeswoman said: “Standards complaints are confidential unless or until the matter proceeds to a hearing before the council’s standards committee. We are therefore unable to comment on this.”
Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service