Save Our Spen group's complaint over warehouse plan near Cleckheaton thrown out

Another formal complaint against a council leader said to be backing a controversial planning scheme has been dismissed.

Monday, 27th September 2021, 5:36 pm
Leader of Kirklees Council, Coun Shabir Pandor

But the people behind the complaint say they intend taking it “to the next level” and refer it to the Local Government Ombudsman.

Shabir Pandor, Labour leader of Kirklees Council, was widely criticised after he appeared to speak in favour of a massive distribution centre being proposed for land close to junction 26 of the M62 near Cleckheaton.

The site forms part of the council’s controversial Local Plan. And even though its scope “exceeds the development capacity” outlined in the Local Plan’s allocation document, it could employ around 1,500 people and therefore would contribute towards the council’s target of delivering 23,000 jobs by 2031.

An illustrative masterplan of how the proposed Amazon distribution centre near Cleckheaton could look. Image: ISG Retail Ltd (Bristol)

On that basis, officers say the introduction of an employment facility on the site “is acceptable in principle”.

In August Coun Pandor said he was “trying his best” to secure the 1,500 jobs associated with the warehouse facility, which has been linked to online retailer Amazon.

He later sought to distance himself from the development, saying: “I have not expressed support or otherwise for this particular planning application.”

Legal officers with the council have already thrown out one formal complaint made against Coun Pandor. Now they have dismissed a second made by the action group Save Our Spen.

In a formal complaint sent to council chief executive Jacqui Gedman, Coun Pandor was urged “for the sake of transparency and in the public interest” to “give details of what his actual involvement, at all stages, has been in this particular planning process".

It said it was “crystal clear” to many people living close to the site – on 59 acres of farmland at Scholes between Whitehall Road, Whitechapel Road and the motorway – that Coun Pandor’s comments portrayed the sentiment that the Amazon scheme was “a done deal”.

In a lengthy letter to the group’s chairman, the council said: “With any proposed development, the council could potentially hold a number of what might seem to be conflicting roles and interests in matters.

“Here we are considering a situation where one part of the council is encouraging business development, and another is required to consider the suitability of the associated planning application impartially.”

It added: “I can understand that perhaps the mix of these roles might make it seem that the council as a body is favouring a particular outcome.

“However, it is also worth highlighting that the relevant Government legislations in place recognises these different roles, and there are many thousands of employees within the council, meaning that different staff and different departments can be separated to have different views and functions.

“The key here is to ensure that different services of the council have acted within the requirements of the legislation.”

Referring to elected members like Coun Pandor, who is a councillor for Batley West, the council said: “Clearly too outside of the officer role, elected leaders of the council may also hold a view on the proposed development (either for or against) from a political perspective.

“Again, it is important that any of the elected members who might consider a forthcoming planning application ensure they do not hold a predetermined view upon it.

“To be clear, Coun Pandor as Leader of the Council may choose to support the proposed development in the area if that is what he feels is appropriate.

“Coun Pandor does not have any role in determining the planning application, and this is a very different process.”

Chair of Save Our Spen, Sharon Lewis, expressed her disappointment at the council’s stance and the five-week response time.

She said: “It fails to address the fundamental issues raised in my letter. We will be taking it to the next level.

“Information obtained through a Freedom of Information request clearly confirms that actions have been taken by the applicant based on advice received from senior councillors and their officers.

“This along with the comments made by Coun Pandor on August 3 clearly indicate there is no ethical wall within Kirklees Council.

“As a result we feel we have no option but to refer this very serious matter to the Local Government Ombudsman.”