Dual-role planner ‘did not influence blueprint’

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A SENIOR planning officer who was revealed to also be working for a national property developer did not improperly influence a controversial planning blueprint at a Yorkshire council, an investigation has concluded.

The independent inquiry into Hamish Gledhill’s role at Kirklees Council also found there was no evidence he had used insider knowledge for his or the developer’s own gain.

It did suggest the council could tighten its procedures on checking the outside interests of planning officers.

The Yorkshire Post has previously revealed Mr Gledhill began an arrangement to find land to develop on behalf of Princegate Estates in 2006 but did not tell Kirklees Council until January this year.

He was allowed to resign by the council two months ago after a disciplinary investigation found he had breached the terms of his contract by not declaring his link with Princegate, though there was no evidence he had acted corruptly.

At the same time the council announced an inquiry into whether Mr Gledhill had influenced Kirklees’s key planning blueprint for the area, which has been met with criticism after its release earlier this week. The council’s plan includes 25,000 new homes to be built by 2028, with 2,500 proposed on green belt land.

The inquiry, led by Barra Mac Ruairi, Bradford Council’s Strategic Director of Regeneration and Culture, looked at Mr Gledhill’s role in producing the core strategy of the Local Development Framework and whether he could have influenced which areas of land were identified for development.

The findings, released yesterday, concluded: “There was little or no opportunity for HG (Hamish Gledhill) to influence the content of the core strategy, and there is no evidence that he sought to do so.

“There is no evidence that either HG, or Princegate, or any companies that may have been linked to it, had attempted to benefit from HG’s inside knowledge, gained from his employment within the Planning Department of Kirklees Council.”

The inquiry noted that Mr Gledhill was not part of the authority’s senior management.

His main role was focused on Huddersfield town centre and commercial development rather than housing. In addition, much of the process to create the planning blueprint was based around set formulas which were difficult to exert personal influence on.

The level of scrutiny as the strategy developed meant “there could have been very little opportunity for influence on the content”.

Mr Gledhill’s colleagues said he had not shown an “unexpected level of interest in the evolving housing proposals of the core strategy, or sought to influence housing matters”.

The findings recognised it would be very difficult to ascertain whether Mr Gledhill had passed on insider information because by its nature there would be no record of it. However, the inquiry “found no evidence that HG, Princegate or any associated companies had developed sites within the Kirklees area.”

Bank details of a separate company established by Mr Gledhill for his private development work confirmed he had not concluded any development projects in Kirklees or in neighbouring Wakefield.

The inquiry said overall governance of planning appeared strong but added extra reassurance could be provided by a series of measures including regular reviews of outside interests, unannounced spot checks and reminding local developers of council rules.

Kirklees Council chief executive, Adrian Lythgo, said: “In the light of the panel’s conclusions I am pleased that we can confidently progress to the next stage of our consultations and debate of the Core Strategy.”

The proposals will be discussed, in public, by the council’s cabinet on Tuesday with a final decision expected to be taken at a meeting of the council on November 23.

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