Council accused of fraud in battle over site

A YORKSHIRE council was fighting for its credibility last night, after it was accused of fraudulently attempting to obtain a Compulsory Purchase Order in a bitter planning dispute which may yet see police called in.

Solicitors say they have email evidence that Adrian Rose, Calderdale Council's regeneration manager, allowed "false evidence'' to be presented to a public inquiry in an attempt to force through the purchase order.

The solicitors, acting for the owner of the land which the council wants to buy, have now written to all 51 Calderdale councillors urging them to contact the police to investigate the allegations which also involve senior council officers.

Calderdale Council has been locked in a battle of wills for several years with Brighouse businessman Bill Ibberson as it fought to have its radically different plans for Sugden's Mill, a plot of land in Royd Street near Brighouse town centre, adopted.

Under the original plans, the council and its development partner, CDP of Elland, would seek to develop a new swimming pool, retail units and a road bridge in the town.

Under Mr Ibberson's later, more ambitious, rival scheme up to 100m could be spent on a development designed by internationally-renowned architect Will Alsop.

This would see a swimming pool created as well as shops, bars, restaurants, a hotel, health centre, library, theatre and retail and office accommodation.

A crucial part of the council/CDP scheme involved the amount of money involved in a proposed road bridge agreement with British Waterways Board.

Initial evidence to the public inquiry which began hearing evidence last year suggested that the bridge was valued at a mere 20,000 but it has now been admitted that the price was closer to 560,000.

Hammonds solicitors say Mr Rose knew of the bridge agreement, had copies of the draft and knew the sums to be paid going back to 2003. In addition, it is said that he received or sent at least eight communications on the matter.

The solicitors claim that: "Mr Rose let false evidence be presented to the inquiry. If Mr Rose were to claim that it had slipped his mind, that demonstrates a level of incompetence in a senior council officer which is not credible in any event.''

The discrepancy in the figures was an important one because one of the issues involved in the inquiry was the financial viability of the proposed scheme.

Last night, Calderdale councillor Paul Rogan (Rastrick, English Democrats) called on council leader Ann McAllister (Rastrick, Conservative) to resign.

He said: "There appears to be something very rotten at the heart of Calderdale and it is something which the people of Brighouse have felt for some time. I sincerely hope that the council is open and fair about investigating these allegations as I don't want this to be a 'Caldergate'.

"It should be handed over to the police for their attention. I shall try to raise this matter at the next full council meeting on Wednesday."

Asked to comment, Coun McAllister said: "I really can't say anything at the moment.''

After years of legal arguments, which included a hearing at the House of Lords, matters came to a head last year at a public inquiry held in Brighouse where the council sought to win acceptance for its compulsory purchase order of land owned by Mr Ibberson's company, Younger Homes (Northern) Ltd, of which he is managing director.

The inspector, Stephen Amos, said at the time that: "I have never conducted an inquiry in an atmosphere as unpleasant as this

His report was expected to be revealed next month but yesterday, Mr Ibberson dramatically upped the stakes by writing to elected members demanding a police investigation.

He wrote: "I am sure that after reading the enclosed copy letters, (from Hammonds Solicitors to Calderdale's chief law and administration officer and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government), you will agree with me that the conduct of the Council Officers, and others referred to in the letters, falls far short of an acceptable standard.

"In essence it would appear that the main Council witness, Mr Adrian Rose, aided by others, has presented false evidence to mislead the Sugdens CPO inquiry.

"The above was bad enough in itself but it was also discovered during the course of the Sugden's CPO hearing that Calderdale MBC Officers submitted disingenuous reports to Cabinet to obtain favourable decisions to support the Sugden CPO and amended approved Cabinet documents at their discretion...

"I leave it to you to determine whether or not you consider the actions of the Council Officers to be unaccceptable.

"If you do, could I kindly request you to join with ourselves in making a joint complaint to the West Yorkshire Police asking them to investigate the matter fully?"

And in a strongly worded letter sent by Hammonds to the Secretary of State earlier this week the solicitors savagely attacked Mr Rose's credibility.

They said: "On the basis of the information set out above it would appear the evidence now is that the council's officer responsible for the project, Mr Rose, has deliberately misled the inquiry to try to get the CPO confirmed.

"In substance it appears the council has attempted to obtain the CPO by fraud...''

No-one from CDP was available for comment and Mr Rose told the Yorkshire Post that he was unable to "give any statement at all.''

A spokesman for Calderdale Council commented: "Any allegations made by Mr Ibberson and his solicitors will be fully looked into.

"Mr Ibberson has made a number of allegations over a period of time and all have been investigated and refuted."