Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Planning Controversy at West Lindsey Embroils Leadership

Further details emerged last night surrounding the investigations into alleged fraud and mismanagement in the Planning Department at West Lindsey District Council.

It has been alleged that Leader of the Council, Cllr. Bernard Theobald, Conservative (Wold View Ward) and a previous chairman of the council’s Planning Committee, submitted a planning application in June 2009 to build a country house on land at South Owersby. Cllr. Theobald it appears had purchased the land with council colleague Cllr. Stuart Kinch, Conservative (Torksey Ward) with their respective wives for the sum of £155,000.

The Audit Commission is currently conducting an investigation into governance issues at the authority, including the planning department. Potential problems in the management of the planning service had been brought to the council’s attention and an internal investigation was being carried out. One officer has been suspended as a neutral act.

At a stormy council meeting last night Leader of the Opposition, Cllr. Reg Shore, Liberal Democrat (Stow Ward) called upon the council to be transparent saying:
"You are all fully aware of what is at stake, as are the public. If you ignore these issues, you may not be forgiven."
The row centres in part on how much of the land had previously been used for residential purposes.

The report stated there was already a house and several static caravans on it, so it would be reasonable to build a five bedroom house there. However, residents and the parish council maintain the buildings had been used for livestock, so developing a large house would not fit within the allowed limits for the land.

The former owner of the land, Mr. Robert Carter, claimed in a letter to the council that he had received advice from council planning officers that such a large development would not be granted planning permission. He sold the land in October 2008 and said he would look for compensation if Cllr. Theobald's application was approved.

In confidential planning documents brought into the public domain by the Lincolnshire Echo, a report was written by a planning officer recommending the application should be approved. However, It was taken off the agenda just days before it was due to be discussed by councillors at a planning committee.

Cllr. Theobald has denied any wrongdoing and said he had no involvement in the planning process. He said his agents were in control of the application and he declared his interest at the earliest opportunity.

"I did not deal with the negotiations and I don't think Cllr. Kinch did.

"The application was handed over to my agents, I have not spoken to planning officers about it.

"I insisted the application had my name on it so there was no doubt of my involvement. I wanted everyone to be aware in the council and I declared an interest.

"There was no doubt I had a practical interest. I never had a meeting on that land about the land with any officer. I spoke to no-one."

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