Northumbria Police have decided to take no action over allegations concerning Northumberland County Council’s planning department and a proposed garden village.
A report on the actions of certain staff dealing with the Dissington Garden Village planning application was made to the council’s audit committee in late January.
This said that a “very senior” planning officer enjoyed “excessive hospitality” from a developer including “fine dining in a private room of a London restaurant owned by a Michelin starred chef” and first class rail travel and hotel accommodation.
Junior staff dealing with Dissington were told to use their personal email accounts for this, rather than council ones and discussions about Northumberland loaning the scheme’s developer £34m reached an “advanced stage”.
Had this happened there could have been “a serious financial risk to public finances”, the report said.
Chief executive Daljit Lally’s report said: “The conduct of a number of senior officers previously employed by the county council has fallen short of expected standards of behaviour, conduct and ethics and as a result significant concerns have been raised with Northumbria Police and an external referral has been made to the relevant professional body.”
Ms Lally’s report said the council had significant evidence of attempts to subvert the council’s planning function in relation to the 257 hectares development.
After junior staff made whistleblowing clams an independent investigation found, “decisions and conduct in relation to that planning application were not transparent or appropriate”.
Northumbria Police told Local Government Lawyer: “The council contacted us about this in March last year and we told them in June that we had not found anything warranting a criminal investigation”
Developer Lugano Dissington Estate threatened the council with legal action when it withdrew its previous draft core strategy but this action was later dropped.
Before that, the council had spent £273,000 in legal costs, which the report said it was unlikely to recover as it was now one among 27 unsecured creditors of Lugano Dissington Estate.
Northumberland said the company’s administrators had submitted a report on the conduct of Lugano Dissington Estate’s directors to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.