Northumberland politicians’ war of words escalates over Lugano legal bid

An artist's impression of the Dissington Garden Village.
An artist's impression of the Dissington Garden Village.

FORMER leader Grant Davey has called for more transparency from his replacement at Northumberland County Council, Peter Jackson.

Yesterday, property developers Lugano announced legal proceedings against Coun Jackson and Northumberland County Council over the handling of the proposed 2,000 home Dissington Garden Village.

At the same time, a file of allegations from Lugano, which also includes complaints about Coun John Riddle, the cabinet member for planning and housing, and chief executive Daljit Lally, as well as Coun Jackson, was handed to the Crown Prosecution Service.

Now ex-leader Coun Davey, leader of the Labour Group, has asked Coun Jackson to be more open in light of yesterday’s legal moves.

“Let’s see some real transparency from Peter Jackson’s self-styled ‘transparent council’,” he said. “This latest action raises serious issues of probity in public office for the leader and chief executive of the authority.

“They have been challenged by myself and MP’s Ian Lavery and Ronnie Campbell  to back an independent inquiry into actions like the removal of the Core Strategy and the scrapping of the development company Arch.

“They have instead preferred to conduct a series of partisan investigations into me and others based on unsubstantiated smears and innuendo.

“In the legal process, we will at least have an opportunity to scrutinise decisions which have already been called into question on the grounds of improper actions, yet not investigated.

“I welcome any action which will throw open a questionable decision-making process starting literally on day one of this Conservative-led coalition.

“Whether it be the questionable decision to use £5.5million to pay off the contractor on the Ashington hole, the decision to start three private investigator-led investigations costing an estimated £500,000, (which seem to have uncovered that Arch once spent £58 on a bottle of wine), the decision to forego a £25million receipt from the sale of County Hall and transfer jobs to the market towns of the county, spend millions on bungled consultations about schools in the west and to remove a Core Strategy which was backed by the Conservatives’ own government.

“To put this all in context, millions spent on failed and bungled policies which have now landed the council in court on a multi-million-pound lawsuit against a private company.

“To put it further in context, the Tories have wasted millions of taxpayers money to buy a headline that Arch travelled to sell Northumberland to prospective employers, yet the legal action the Tories and the chief executive now face may cost the council taxpayer the equivalent of 21,500 bottles of £58 wine or hundreds of MIPIM conferences without a single job created.”

Conservative Coun Nick Oliver, cabinet member for corporate services, hit back, saying: “Lugano say they have issued legal proceedings when in fact all they have done is pay an expensive lawyer to write some threatening letters and issue press releases making unsubstantiated and vague claims.  

“This is yet another salvo from a big offshore-owned property developer with anonymous owners using unusually aggressive tactics to get its own way.

“They are pursuing a huge development worth hundreds of millions so you can see why they are so desperate.

“When it comes back before a planning committee it will be dealt with in the proper way.”

By Graeme Anderson, Local Democracy Reporting Service