|Council Leader Accused of Impropriety|
Investigation over involvement in senior politician's planning application
Ealing's Council Leader is to be investigated over whether he acted wrongly in the planning application of a senior Labour politician.
It's been revealed that Councillor Julian Bell organised a 'secret' meeting for GLA member Dr Onkar Sahota with council officers over a controversial application for the redevelopment of his Haven Green house.
Planning officers recommended approval for the application - but it was rejected at committee stage. Dr Sahota said he would appeal the decision.
Cllr Benjamin Dennehy (UKIP) has complained to the Director for Legal and Democratic Services about the Council Leader's role. He said the behaviour of Cllr Bell needed further scrutiny:
''Cllr Bell is struggling to justify this conduct. He should resign. It's protocol that a decision like this be made by committee, we all know that and that's what happened.
''What isn't protocol is for the Leader, who doesn't represent the ward to set up secret meetings with planners on behalf of the politician applying, without notifying the planning committee or ward councillors.
''He should have had no involvement whatsoever. I know residents will be disturbed and shocked by this apparent gold plated favouritism."
At a full Council meeting last night Cllr Bell reportedly insisted he had followed established protocol for a politician's planning application.
He said: '' I have today written to Cllr Bell outlining resident anger over the way that the council has been apparently used by a senior Labour colleague of Cllr Bell and asking for the Leader to refer himself to Standards as the only way of restoring his and the councils reputation.
' The old crony municipal Labour politics, that we thought we had banished from Ealing, must not be allowed to return. The allegations are serious and it is time for the conduct of the Leader to be investigated."
Liberal Democrat Group Leader Councillor Gary Malcolm said: '' I personally cannot know if Cllr Bell has breached any rules or whether claims about the details of any pre-meetings are true, so I will be awaiting to hear whether the Standards Committee finds any evidence in its investigations.''
A Council spokesperson said: ''The council’s monitoring officer has received a complaint about Councillor Bell which will be investigated according to our normal procedures.''
Councillor Bell says his conscience is clear and has today (18/7) sent this statement:
'' I welcome the opportunity provided by the standards committee investigation to make clear that no impropriety took place at any stage of the application and that I was acting in accordance with long established practices for dealing with politicians' planning applications.
''Having received a request through my office from Dr Sahota to be provided with officer advice on his planning application, I facilitated a meeting with the Director of Built Environment, Mr Noel Rutherford. I attended the meeting to make the introductions and did not provide any planning advice to Dr Sahota and I did not seek, nor have I ever sought to influence this or any other decision of a planning application. Subsequent to this meeting I took no further part in the process and Dr Sahota's application was submitted and then decided on at planning committee."
Brent Council's Legal Director has been appointed to investigate the complaint.
17th July 2013