Pressure continues on council leadership over developer's allegations

The opposition is keeping up the pressure on the leadership at Northumberland County Council following serious allegations made by a developer.

Wednesday, 16th May 2018, 9:29 am
Updated Wednesday, 16th May 2018, 9:31 am
An artist's impression of the proposed Dissington garden village.

As previously reported, Lugano Developments has made a number of claims about ‘unlawful’ efforts by the leader of the council and others to prevent its Dissington Garden Village project from going ahead.

The company, which wants to build 2,000 homes and other facilities on the estate near Ponteland, made the allegations in an eight-page letter sent to all councillors on Friday – the day after it was informed that its application would be going back before councillors for a new decision.

The council has said that it is ‘appalled and quite frankly astounded’ by Lugano’s actions and that it is seeking legal advice on ‘the many inappropriate, untrue and defamatory statements’.

But the Labour opposition at County Hall echoed Lugano’s call for an independent inquiry and group leader Grant Davey has now questioned the involvement in a key planning group of one of the other councillors mentioned in the letter as well as calling on the chief executive to act in relation to an investigation.

Coun Davey said: “I’ve written to the CEO, Daljit Lally, inquiring whether it is appropriate for Coun Colin Horncastle to be involved in Wednesday’s Local Development Framework working group meeting given the serious nature of the allegations raised by Lugano Group.

“I have also highlighted her need to consider what role she plays in the independent, third-party investigation given the allegations made about the conduct of the authority under her leadership.

“That is a matter for her conscience, but she needs to consider the mounting pressure for the independent investigation into the Lugano allegations of bullying of staff and corruption.”

A Northumberland County Council spokesman said: “We note this correspondence but have nothing further to add to our previous comments.”

The council’s previous statement said: “We are appalled and quite frankly astounded that the applicant (Lugano Developments) has chosen to make public such serious allegations in an open letter.

“This matter relates to a live planning application and the applicant was advised on May 10 that its application regarding Dissington Garden Village would be coming back to the council’s strategic planning committee on June 19.

“They had been advised that the withdrawal of the draft Northumberland Local Plan – Core Strategy was clearly a material change in circumstance which requires that their application is now reconsidered.

“The development in question is for 2,000 properties to be built on green-belt land within the county. The council is seeking to bring this matter to a conclusion and therefore this will be considered in line with the established and statutory planning processes in due course.

“The council can confirm that the process which it is following is lawful and reasonable, and it has been fully open with the applicant regarding all aspects of this.

“For clarity, Coun Jackson does not sit on the planning committee and is well within his right in his role as a local councillor to reflect any concerns or views of his constituents.

“Finally, the allegations are very serious in nature and the council believes that it would be inappropriate at this time to address publicly the many inappropriate, untrue and defamatory statements which are contained within the letter. The council is taking legal advice in this regard.”

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service