Claims council ‘colluded’ with developer over new homes plan

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The integrity of Babergh District Council has been called into question following allegations it acted “inappropriately” regarding a housing development in Long Melford.

During a heated annual meeting of Long Melford Parish Council, residents accused the authority of negotiating with developer David Wilson Homes in an effort to engineer the building of 51 homes on the former Fleetwood Caravans site.

Villagers say that during an inquiry into the plans, which were initially rejected in June, the council announced it would be removing one of the two reasons for refusing the application.

This centred on concerns that the layout of the development was unsuitable given its size and left only arguments over access to the site as a condition to turn down the proposals.

“I have it on good authority that the planning department had been in direct negotiation with David Wilson Homes regarding the removal of the first reason for refusal,” said Camilla Rodwell, who had opposed the plans.

Mrs Rodwell, from Hunter Gallery, said there were other concerns the council acted “inappropriately” during the inquiry, which resulted in the dismissal of planning consultant William Richards.

Mr Richards, a non-practicing barrister, was appointed by the authority to argue the case against the plans, but was sacked on the second day after failing to inform the developer he was tape recording the hearing.

He was replaced by Christine Thurlow, the council’s head of planning, who had previously recommended approval of the scheme.

Mrs Rodwell said this cast doubt over the legitimacy of the inquiry.

Richard Kemp, a parish, district and county councillor, said he and fellow councillor John Nunn were “disgusted” they had not been kept informed of matters relating to the inquiry.

He said that he believed the council had panicked by dismissing Mr Richards, while files seen by others had raised questions about the close relationship of planners and developers, suggested there was a case for professional incompetence.

“I think what has happened here is the most serious breach of public faith that I have witnessed during my time as a member of the district council,” he said.

“This is a time for action against those who have let the taxpayers of Long Melford down in such a catastrophic manner.”

Mr Kemp said allegations that Peter Village, QC for David Wilson Homes, had referred to disabled people as being “three-eyed and one-legged” at the inquiry had been referred to the standards board.