Lugano fires another salvo in Northumberland planning row

Northumberland County Council's HQ in Morpeth.
Northumberland County Council's HQ in Morpeth.

The row between a developer and the leadership at Northumberland County Council has intensified with Lugano saying it is reporting the matter to the Crown Prosecution Service.

The company behind the Dissington Garden Village proposals, for 2,000 homes and other facilities near Ponteland, has followed up its shot across the bows by hitting back at the county council’s response to its claims.

An artist's impression of the proposed Dissington garden village.

An artist's impression of the proposed Dissington garden village.

In a statement issued this afternoon, Lugano also says that it is standing behind the contents of its letter of complaint and that it has written to ‘the Secretary of State asking him to intervene in the council to restore its proper planning functions’.

As previously reported, the developer has made a number of claims about ‘unlawful’ efforts by the leader of the council and others to prevent its controversial project from going ahead.

The firm made the allegations in an eight-page letter sent to all councillors on Friday – the day after it was informed that its application would be going back before the planning committee for a new decision.

The council has said that it is ‘appalled and quite frankly astounded’ by Lugano’s actions and that it is seeking legal advice on ‘the many inappropriate, untrue and defamatory statements’, but the Labour opposition at County Hall echoed the company’s call for an independent inquiry.

Today’s statement sets out how the developer has been working with the county council on this the garden village scheme for several years, adding that it ‘wishes to make it clear that we make no complaint against the council as a whole, rather just those individuals who have sought to improperly and unlawfully interfere with the proper processes, for their own purposes’.

Lugano director Allan Rankin said: “We have noted Coun Jackson’s comments in the press in rebuttal of our detailed, evidenced complaint. He has, however, not written to us.

“Clearly if I have got my facts wrong, Mr Jackson will sue me. We both cannot be telling the truth.”

Coun Jackson previously described the claims as based on ‘tittle-tattle’ and that the company was resorting to ‘petty, personal attacks’ in ‘desperation’.

The follow-up statement from Lugano in full:

“In response to a recent press release from Northumberland County Council (NCC), Lugano stands fully behind the contents of its letter of complaint to the NCC’s legal officer.

“Lugano’s complaint is far from a case of a disgruntled developer attempting to get its way as stated in the NCC press release. It is a complaint about the corrupt practices of NCC leader Coun Peter Jackson and others, and their minority efforts to usurp the proper planning function of NCC for their own purposes.

“The facts are that Lugano has been working on this the Dissington Garden Village (DGV) project in partnership with NCC for several years. The partnership has included the involvement of The Prince’s Foundation as national design leads on the project with further input from Lord Matthew Taylor, the Government’s lead advisor on garden communities.

“Indeed, it was the council who submitted the original Expression of Interest to the Government for the Garden Village scheme at Dissington, the council who requested that Lugano submit the formal planning application and the council that were subsequently awarded Capacity Funding from Homes England to assist them to progress the project. It was with and upon the council’s express support that Lugano spent several millions of pounds to progress the development to its current state of readiness.

“Lugano wishes to make it clear that we make no complaint against NCC as a whole, rather just those individuals who have sought to improperly and unlawfully interfere with the proper processes, for their own purposes. Indeed, until recently Lugano have enjoyed a very positive and professional relationship with NCC, working together on this flagship project that will bring over 5,000 jobs, 2,000 homes (of which 30% are affordable) and over £90million of public benefit to the local area and Northumberland as a whole.

“Lugano also notes that the NCC press release contains a number of contradictions. Lugano was informed by letter on May 10 that the DGV scheme was to be brought back to NCC Strategic Planning Committee for determination on June 19 because ‘the withdrawal of the draft Northumberland Local Plan – Core Strategy was clearly a material change in circumstance which requires that their application is now reconsidered’.

“Yet the NCC leadership had received professional independent expert planning advice in late 2017 that advised them that ‘due to the ‘limited weight’ given to the Core Strategy in the committee report, its withdrawal in itself would not affect the overall planning balance to the extent that an alternative recommendation would be justified’.

“Lugano also notes that the NCC press release states that ‘the allegations are very serious in nature and the council believes that it would be inappropriate at this time to address publicly the many inappropriate, untrue and defamatory statements which are contained within the letter. The council is taking legal advice in this regard’.

“This is concerning because NCC appears to have already concluded that our statements are ‘inappropriate, untrue and defamatory’ without any form of independent investigation having been undertaken whatsoever, despite an acceptance by NCC of the serious nature of our complaints.

“Lugano director, Mr Allan Rankin, observed that: “We have noted Coun Jackson’s comments in the press in rebuttal of our detailed, evidenced complaint. He has, however, not written to us. Clearly if I have got my facts wrong, Mr Jackson will sue me. We both cannot be telling the truth.”

“Lugano has also written to the Secretary of State asking him to intervene in NCC to restore its proper planning functions and we are reporting the matter to the Crown Prosecution Service.”

Northumberland County Council’s statement in full:

“We are appalled and quite frankly astounded that the applicant (Lugano Developments) has chosen to make public such serious allegations in an open letter.

“This matter relates to a live planning application and the applicant was advised on May 10 that its application regarding Dissington Garden Village would be coming back to the council’s strategic planning committee on June 19.

“They had been advised that the withdrawal of the draft Northumberland Local Plan – Core Strategy was clearly a material change in circumstance which requires that their application is now reconsidered.

“The development in question is for 2,000 properties to be built on green-belt land within the county. The council is seeking to bring this matter to a conclusion and therefore this will be considered in line with the established and statutory planning processes in due course.

“The council can confirm that the process which it is following is lawful and reasonable, and it has been fully open with the applicant regarding all aspects of this.

“For clarity, Coun Jackson does not sit on the planning committee and is well within his right in his role as a local councillor to reflect any concerns or views of his constituents.

“Finally, the allegations are very serious in nature and the council believes that it would be inappropriate at this time to address publicly the many inappropriate, untrue and defamatory statements which are contained within the letter. The council is taking legal advice in this regard.”

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service