Newcastle-based Lugano first made serious allegations over the ‘unlawful’ way the Conservative-led council has handled its application for the Dissington Garden Village, a development of up to 2,000 homes near Ponteland, back in May. These have been refuted.
In June, the company sent a letter before claim against the local authority as well as council leader Peter Jackson, cabinet member for planning John Riddle and chief executive Daljit Lally.
On Monday, another letter was sent to all councillors, which said that ‘due to the unsatisfactory responses’ to that letter, ‘we now have no option but to issue proceedings in the High Court against those individuals and the council, and we intend to issue those proceedings shortly’.
The correspondence also calls for the report into anonymous letters of complaint against Coun Jackson to be made available to councillors.
As previously reported, one letter, which claimed to be from a Conservative councillor, alleged that Coun Jackson ‘bullied’ the then head of planning, Mark Ketley, who left the authority earlier this year, over the Dissington proposals.
The council said that an independent investigation of these claims ‘concluded that there was no case to answer and the allegations were wholly unfounded’.
Lugano’s letter, signed by executive chairman Richard Robson, says all of this information should be made available as part of the call-in of the decision to grant legal indemnities, with a series of restrictions, to Ms Lally and Couns Jackson and Riddle.
The Labour opposition said that this decision to foot the legal bills of the trio – made by the cabinet in July – needs to be looked at again as ‘it’s unclear how the taxpayer will be protected against all potential outcomes’.
Reacting to Lugano’s latest letter, Labour leader Grant Davey said that it raises serious concerns that councillors have been misled over the investigation into the allegations of bullying and intimidation.
He added: “We must have clear oversight of the report and the CEO must release it.
“If she does not release it after it has been released to the developer, she needs to clarify whether the cabinet saw the report and its evidence before it granted the indemnities to the leader, cabinet member for housing and herself.
“I have called for her to step aside previously and it’s clear the situation is potentially calamitous for the county.
“We need an independent investigation called for by the MPs and myself and it needs to start with full transparency on this report.”
A county council spokeswoman said: “We are aware of further correspondence from the Lugano Group and continue to take legal advice in this regard.
“As previously stated, we believe that the council has acted lawfully and reasonably throughout this process.
“We continue to work with Lugano on its live planning application for Dissington Garden Village.”
Coun Nick Oliver, the cabinet member for corporate resources, said: “This is the latest salvo from a large offshore property company attempting to get their way in an unpopular planning application worth hundreds of millions. These matters will be dealt with using the proper processes.”
Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service