Standards complaints against two Northumberland councillors by a developer involved in a legal dispute with the local authority have been dismissed.
Newcastle-based Lugano, which is behind the plans for the Dissington Garden Village that were recently withdrawn, had lodged complaints regarding comments in the press and at council meetings made by Couns David Bawn and Nick Oliver.
In both cases, it was found that no further action was required and Coun Bawn is now calling for an apology from the company.
The plans for the Dissington Garden Village had been earmarked to go back before Northumberland County Council’s strategic planning committee at the start of this month.
However, it was withdrawn around a week before this by Lugano, which previously had a minded-to-approve resolution for its proposals for the ‘exemplar’ scheme of homes and other facilities near Ponteland.
Nonetheless, 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.
In a statement explaining its decision to withdraw the application, Lugano referred to standards complaints it had made as a result of ‘continuous erroneous and misleading statements’.
These complaints had been seen by this correspondent – although they did not come from anyone directly involved with Lugano – with Couns Bawn and Oliver among those named in the article.
In relation to the complaint about Coun Bawn’s comments in a full council meeting regarding an alleged £75million loan from the council under the previous Labour administration to Lugano, the decisions says that there is ‘information held by the council which would tend to support the position as represented by Councillor Bawn’.
“I was very surprised to be referenced by Lugano in the latest newspaper story regarding its feud with the county council,” Coun Bawn said.
“I am aware that the developer lodged a standards complaint against me. This complaint was entirely malicious and after being looked into was thrown out as being without any merit.
“It is always important to stand up to bullies and I can find no other way to describe the actions of this developer seeking to exert pressure on elected councillors.
“Normally standards complaints remain confidential, so it is appalling that Lugano referenced this complaint in their comments attacking the council.
“I therefore call upon them to issue an apology to me for this leak and an apology for making a complaint they must have known was vexatious.”
In response, a statement from Lugano said: “It is interesting that Coun Bawn feels he is due an apology following an investigation into his own behaviour. No elected member is above public scrutiny.
“While we note the findings into our complaints, we do not agree with the conclusions, as we believe the individuals have not acted within the guidelines of the council’s code of conduct either in relation to our business or the Dissington Garden Village project.
“Coun Bawn has not been named in any of Lugano’s public statements, so, once again, we are unsure as to why he may feel an apology is due.
“It is a matter of record that as a result of continuous erroneous and misleading statements made by various members of the administration, Lugano submitted formal complaints to the council’s standards board noting numerous breaches of the code of conduct.
“It is also a matter of fact that they would not agree to meet or engage in any meaningful way, since they took control. The only conclusion that can be drawn is that this change of position is purely politically driven.
“We would be more than happy to meet Coun Bawn or any of his colleagues in person to discuss these matters in detail.
“Lugano intends to resubmit plans at the appropriate time.”
A Northumberland County Council spokesman has said: “We categorically refute any suggestion there was political interference in this process.”
Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service