Council leader defends actions after planning row

By Dan Santy Thursday 06 December 2012 Updated: 06/12 09:29

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RUGBY'S council leader has defended his decision to order a planning committee member to stay away from future meetings over fears the council could be hit with a hefty legal bill.

Chris Pacey-Day received a text message from Rugby Borough Council leader Craig Humphrey telling him not to attend forthcoming planning committee meetings after he proposed a motion to refuse the development of 80 homes on School Street in Wolston at a meeting in October.

The motion was then voted through, and the development rejected.

At the time, the reasons for refusal given were a lack of affordable housing and the impact it would have on the nearby listed Wolston Priory building.

Controversy has since surfaced after satirical magazine Private Eye accused Coun Humphrey of sacking fellow Conservative Coun Pacey-Day for making a decision he disagreed with.

But the council leader said he had not sacked him and had instead asked Coun Pacey-Day to stay away for now because his motion to refuse the application had no legal grounds.

According to Coun Humphrey, the motion only proposed rejecting the application on grounds people in Wolston and the parish council did not want it - which he added was not a valid reason for refusal under planning law.

Part of the problem, it has emerged, is the refusal on grounds of a lack of affordable houses was only added after the meeting - and later removed when it was realised there was no evidence to back up the claim.

The implications are the council now has little defence against an appeal lodged by developer Bloor Homes - meaning it could be facing a legal bill as much as £100,000.

Coun Humphrey said that after sending the text, Coun Pacey-Day was called to the town hall where officers raised concerns about his ability to decide on future planning matters.

"He has been removed from planning for now to allow us to look at our own training and systems. We can't have members there who might subject us to huge costs and I thought it was the right course of action," said Coun Humphrey.

"I had a long chat with Chris, and he felt aggrieved as if he was being picked on, but I just want to make sure our training of planning committee members is the best possible.

"I'm not bothered if a planning decision is seen as right or wrong. I'm merely saying I don't want to place the council in a position where an appellant is given a blank cheque book.

"If we're subject to these costs, that's about one per cent of our council tax. It might not seem much, but when you're facing the prospect of making redundancies next year, then it matters."

Coun Humphrey added he had discussed with head of planning, Anna Rose, the possibility of reviewing the training given to all planning committee members.

And he also wants to hear from the Government on the legality of asking councillors who refused the application to make a formal defence of their decision as part of the appeal process.

Coun Pacey-Day did not wish to comment.

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