Councillor Greg Stone to be cleared of any wrongdoing

A POLITICIAN being investigated over claims he profiled the likely voting patterns of a planning committee is set to be cleared of any wrongdoing.

Greg Stone

A POLITICIAN being investigated over claims he profiled the likely voting patterns of a planning committee is set to be cleared of any wrongdoing.

Coun Greg Stone was accused of producing papers giving "pen portraits" of the members of Newcastle City Council’s development control committee.

The document was intended for clients of firm Indigo Public Affairs, for whom Coun Stone works as a consultant, in order to help them get planning permission for a student housing scheme in the Shieldfield area of the city.

The senior Liberal Democrat is a former executive member for development and regeneration, but stepped down from that role after starting work for Indigo, at which point he was warned by party colleagues he must have nothing to do with Newcastle planning applications to avoid any conflict of interest.

But it later emerged Indigo had compiled the document for building firm Metnor, which gave detailed predictions of how all 16 members of the committee were likely to vote.

That led to a complaint being made to the council’s then acting chief executive Barry Rowland, who ordered an investigation into the matter.

And in a report set to go before the authority’s standards sub-committee today, (Friday) deputy monitoring officer Stuart Ovens, who carried out the probe, reveals his findings.

The report reveals that throughout the investigation Coun Stone maintained he had no involvement in producing the document , and while he was involved on Indigo’s behalf with projects in Durham and North Yorkshire and other areas, had nothing to do with Newcastle projects.

It states the man responsible for the Shieldfield development was Coun Stone’s line manager Matt Harmer, who lives and works in London. Statements were obtained from him, confirming he was the one who compiled the paperwork, based on press cuttings, local party literature, and "information obtained from local contacts in the political world".

Coun Stone told Mr Ovens he was aware the document had been produced, but that it was not unusual practice and he had nothing to do with it.

But the report says he conceded he may have "inadvertently" influenced some of the material.

It states: "He explained that there was inevitably ‘banter’ or gossip between them in the office or pub, which he joined in, about what was going on at different local authorities and about the views and characters of local politicians, and their relationships with each other. He quite regularly met other colleagues from the firm, either in Newcastle or elsewhere.

"He conceded it was possible, although unlikely, that views he may have expressed in this informal way may have influenced to some extent the content of this document. He said, however, that even in this context he would not, and did not, discuss specific planning applications in Newcastle or how particular members might vote on them."

Mr Ovens concludes his report by backing Coun Stone’s assertions he did nothing wrong.

The report concludes: "On the basis of the evidence obtained during my investigation, I am bound to conclude that on a balance of probabilities (being the correct test to apply here) Coun Stone did not directly or intentionally assist in the preparation of the document.

"Whilst the information given in the document clearly required a knowledge of members of the DC Committee going beyond that held by any ordinary member of the public, I cannot conclude that it comprised any information which could only have been known by Coun Stone."

But Mr Ovens, in finding he had not breached council protocols, concludes Coun Stone should have had a greater appreciation that his "gossiping" about other councillors could have assisted in the production of the document in question.

Coun Stone could not be contacted for comment.

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