Councillor probed on ‘failure to register company’

The site of the York Potash mine
The site of the York Potash mine
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POLICE have been called in to investigate the actions of a senior councillor who set up a minerals company in the wake of a planning application for a huge £1bn potash mine in North Yorkshire.

The move follows the failure of Tim Lawn, former planning chairman of North York Moors National Park Authority, to register the creation of Hollybush Minerals last October.

Until March, Mr Lawn was chairman of the planning committee considering proposals for highly lucrative mining of potash, a key component in fertiliser. Landowners in the area could receive millions of pounds for mineral rights if the plans go ahead.

Mr Lawn, who was also a member of Scarborough Borough Council, took no part in any of the planning meetings discussing the ongoing York Potash application but did not register the company.

Councillors are legally required to register financial interests within 28 days, with failure to do so potentially a criminal offence.

North Yorkshire Police have been asked to investigate by the official responsible for councillor conduct on both the park authority and Scarborough Council.

Mr Lawn, a landowner with substantial mineral rights in the area, said he could not comment on Hollybush Minerals as it was now the subject of a police inquiry. But said he had taken no part in the York Potash application and had otherwise declared his interests.

He registered Hollybush Minerals with Companies House on October 5 but his financial interest in the company was not registered with the national park authority until March 12. Six days later Mr Lawn resigned from Scarborough Council which meant his membership of the national park authority – as a council nominee – also lapsed.

Hollybush Minerals appeared on Mr Lawn’s updated register of interests with Scarborough Council two days after he resigned.

Mr Lawn owns Hollybush Farm at Littlebeck, near Whitby, and has recently bought more land in the area. He said: “I have always declared my interests with regard to land ownership and mineral rights and I have never taken part in any meetings on the York Potash application. I have kept out of anything to do with the application.”

The park authority’s chief executive Andy Wilson said: “We have to let the investigation run its course. It would be wrong to pre-judge the outcome in any way.

“Clearly there is the potential for the investigation to suggest the authority’s decision-making – as opposed to what Tim Lawn may have done personally – has been in some way affected.

“I want to stress to the public that of 16 test drilling applications from York Potash, Tim Lawn declared a prejudicial interest and played no part. Members as a whole were aware Tim Lawn had prejudicial interests and last year it was agreed someone else would have to chair meetings on the substantive application so there hasn’t been a question of Tim Lawn being involved in the planning application.”

Lisa Dixon, Scarborough Council’s legal director, said: “The investigation into former borough councillor, Tim Lawn, relates to the failure to disclose a pecuniary interest.

“Although a member of the public referred this to us as a complaint, we were already taking steps in relation to the matter. However, the investigation has now been referred to North Yorkshire Police and we are unable to comment any further at this time.”

Sirius Minerals, which owns York Potash, first announced plans to develop the mine in January 2011. The firm claimed the mine will create more than 5,000 jobs.