Planning investigation: you may have broken law, councillors told
Councillors may have broken the law by offering their services to developers seeking planning permission, a Cabinet minister has said.
By Holly Watt, Claire Newell and Ben Bryant
10:00PM GMT 12 Mar 2013
In the wake of a Telegraph investigation, Eric Pickles, the Local Government Secretary, said councils must tighten their ethics codes and act against anyone who may have done something illegal.
He urged the Liberal Democrats to take “any necessary action to suspend” a councillor identified by this newspaper for saying he could use “a bit of cunning” to get planning applications through.
In a letter to Hilary Benn, the shadow communities secretary, Mr Pickles said it is unacceptable for councillors to receive any payment for lobbying their councils and that he was concerned by The Telegraph’s investigation into planning consultancies employing councillors and planning officials.
He warned that councillors could face sanctions under both the Localism Act and the Bribery Act.
In his letter, Mr Pickles pointed out that the Conservative Party had suspended one of the councillors who offered to work as a planning consultant, while other parties had taken no action.
Planning investigation: 'we’d say cut down trees before they object’
11 Mar 2013
'I don't come cheap' says councillor
10 Mar 2013
'If I turn a green field into an estate then I’m not doing it for peanuts'
10 Mar 2013
Planning approval 'tricks of the trade'
10 Mar 2013
Offices could be turned into homes without planning permission
22 Jan 2013
I'm 'Mr Esher' says Surrey councillor
10 Mar 2013
“I would hope that political parties of other colours also take any necessary action in this regard, which would send an unambiguous signal on the expectation of high standards, especially in the planning process,” wrote Mr Pickles.
The Lib Dems have not taken any action against Greg Stone, a Newcastle councillor who boasted he could use cunning to get planning permission, despite calls for him to stand down.
However, Mr Pickles said that councillors were not full-time politicians and should be able to hold outside jobs and interests.
He also defended the Coalition’s decision in January last year to close the councils’ ethics and standards watchdog. “The narrow interpretation of predetermination rules has previously been corrosive to local democracy,” he said, insisting that he did not believe “such conduct is widespread”.
Mr Pickles said that any payments to councillors for lobbying in their own areas would be a clear breach of the principles which state councillors must not benefit financially from any council decision.
The Telegraph began an investigation into consultancies which specialise in helping companies to win planning permission for developments across the country.
The Conservative Party in East Devon suspended Graham Brown on Monday, after he was recorded by undercover reporters boasting, “If I can’t get planning, nobody will.”
Mr Brown said his fees would rise for larger developments. “If I turned a green field into a housing estate and I’m earning a developer two or three million, then I ain’t doing it for peanuts … especially if I’m the difference between winning it and losing it.”
Mr Stone, who works for the lobbying company Indigo Public Affairs, stood as a Lib Dem MP at the last election. He said “tricks of the trade” involved using contacts to substitute a difficult member of a planning committee with someone who might be more favourable to a proposal.
A third councillor, David Archer in Esher, has been reported to Elmbridge borough council’s monitoring officer by the council's chief executive.