Judicial review against Council says Councillor benefited from decision he helped make
A legal challenge has been launched against Cornwall Council over concerns a member failed to declare a personal interest before being involved in planning decisions that could benefit his own business.
Westcountry Land & Homes said its plans to build 230 homes at Menehay, between Falmouth and Budock, could have led to the expansion of a caravan park on part of the land, and that a councillor who owns a competing business should not have had a say over them.
The company has lodged a claim for a judicial review against Cornwall Council after it removed the Menehay site from its allocations plan, a document which sets out sites for future development. It previously included Menehay, but following calls from councillors for Falmouth, including Alan Jewell, Cornwall Council’s strategic planning committee agreed to remove it.
After that, the planning application for housing by Westcountry Land & Homes, in association with site owner Falmouth Rugby Club was turned down by Cornwall Council’s strategic planning committee in a vote in which Councillor Jewell participated. One reason for the rejection, among others, was the fact it was no longer in the allocations plan.
Westcountry Land & Homes said the new legal action focused on concerns that Mr Jewell, for Boslowick ward, did not declare interests relating to the site before pushing for it to be removed or remove himself from the decision-making process as a member of the strategic planning committee.
The claim for judicial review by Westcountry Land & Homes states that Mr Jewell, who owns Pennance Mill Farm Chalet and Camping Park, was aware that his main competitor, Mr RJ Dunstan, of Menehay Farm Touring Park, stood to benefit financially from planning permission on the site at Menehay. It says that Mr Jewell was aware that if planning permission was granted, a covenant over Mr Dunstan’s land which prevents the extension of his campsite would be lifted, allowing it to be extended, therefore increasing competition with Mr Jewell’s own campsite.
Mr Jewell is reported to have previously made comments in the planning arena in respect of a conflict of interest between his and Mr Dunstan’s business. He was criticised at a planning committee meeting in 2011 for “bringing his concerns about his own business into a debate” regarding plans to extend the Dunstan’s caravan park.
Mr Jewell is quoted as saying: “We are the only campsite in the borough of Falmouth and if this does go ahead it will take passing trade away from me. It would have an impact on my business”
The claim also raises concerns that Mr Jewell had investigated plans to put student accommodation on his own land and that he subsequently had a say in policies relating to site allocations for student accommodation.
“We wish to ensure that the proper process for making crucial planning decisions is followed,” said Justin Dodge, director of Westcountry Land & Homes. “We have reluctantly had to resort to legal action to ask the court to scrutinise that process and the concerns raised. It’s in the public interest to ensure that the process is transparent and the interests of those making these decisions is properly declared.”
The lodging of the claim is the first stage in judicial review proceedings and sets out the legal grounds for challenging the process by which Cornwall Council has made its policy and planning decisions.
A council spokesman said: “The council is aware of the judicial review challenge being pursued by Westcountry Land & Homes relating to Cornwall Site Allocations Development Plan Document (DPD).
“Following consideration, the inclusion of the Menehay site within the Allocations DPD was not supported for a number of reasons, one of which being that it was felt that an alternative disused brownfield site should be prioritised over the greenfield Menehay site.
“The council denies that there was any unlawfulness in the decision to not include the Menehay site within the Allocations DPD and the council will robustly defend any challenge on this basis.”
Mr Jewell said: “What they are saying is not true and they cannot prove any of it. These are made up allegations. People in my ward were telling me not to push for it (the land being included in the local plan) and that’s what I did.”