A senior councillor in Northumberland has been urged to reconsider joining a group which is drawing up a major planning document for the county, amid claims his land ownership represents a conflict of interest.
A vote is to take place today (wed) on whether Coun Peter Jackson, leader of the Conservative opposition group on Northumberland County Council, should be appointed to the authority’s local development framework (LDF) working group - a body that is working on a document which will shape the council’s future planning guidance.
Ahead of the vote, Coun Jackson’s opposite number - council and Labour leader Grant Davey - has urged him to withdraw from the proposed appointment or face the prospect of being defeated, citing a conflict of interest between his “substantial” landholdings and the body’s remit.
Labour has also highlighted Coun Jackson’s public statements about issues relating to the LDF in the past - in particular speaking against plans for housing on greenbelt at Ponteland - where many of his land interests are centred.
Coun Jackson has said he will not reconsider or declare any interest, claiming his land interests are not likely to be effected by any of the proposals which will come before the working group.
County council officials have backed him, saying Coun Jackson’s interests as a landowner don’t constitute a declarable interest.
A full council meeting is being asked to approve his appointment to the working group which is involved in preparation of the framework, which will include the council’s core strategy planning guidance document.
Labour has urged Coun Jackson to withdraw, citing the “close proximity” of his land interests and the “intrinsic links” between the LDF and local land values.
Ahead of the meeting, Coun Davey said: “The LDF has been in discussion and consultation for over five years yet Coun Jackson wants to muscle his way onto the committee when it gets close to a final decision.
“As a major landowner in Ponteland and beyond and a regular contributor to the various party political campaigns around the LDF, he needs to consider what signal that sends to residents and interested parties when he’s seeking to join a group that has an important role in shaping land decisions in the county for decades to come.
“I’m urging him to reconsider his decision to replace his fellow Conservative Coun (Richard) Dodd on the LDF committee and to withdraw his application before the meeting.”
A Labour spokesman has said the party group will “reserve our right not to support” Coun Jackson’s appointment if he does not withdraw, posing the possibility of it being defeated.
Yet Coun Jackson said he would not be withdrawing, pointing out his party had put him forward to replace Coun Dodd and repeating his calls to protect the county’s greenbelt.
He claimed his land interests are unlikely to be effected by decisions taken by the working group.
The councillor said most lie “outside established towns and villages” at which a draft version of the core strategy proposes greenbelt deletion.
He added: “I have no interest to declare at all. I would not have gone onto it if it effected anything I manage.”
A council spokeswoman added: “We don’t consider that interests as a landowner constitute a declarable interest when considering appointment to this working group.
“Interests as a landowner may become relevant should a member of the working group be asked, as part of the business of the group, to consider the development of policies which might be considered to affect their land interests.”