To Archive List PageThe present leadership of Macclesfield Borough Council objected to Councillor Brendan Murphy's questions about the "Danegate" project and helped to set the Local Government Ombudsman on him. This is the somewhat eccentric verdict of Mrs. P. A. Thomas on Complaint No. 01/C/13075 against Macclesfield Borough Council.


The Complaint
Councillor Murphy is innocent - it's official!

Concerning the meeting at which the Danegate scheme was refused planning permission, the Ombudsman said:

She has no doubt that Councillor Murphy was "forcefully putting forward alternative proposals and must have been seen as being opposed to the [Developer's] proposals". However, the Ombudsman failed to present any evidence of Councillor Murphy's putting forward alternative proposals "forcefully" and the use of the adverb is clearly a sign of unjustified prejudice against Councillor Murphy. Indeed, his single alternative proposal, "Leisuregate" had been dropped long before the meeting at which the planning applications were considered.

The Ombudsman was persuaded that Councillor Murphy had entered the planning meeting with his mind already made up.
   However, she acknowledged that "he put forward sound planning reasons for the rejection of the applications at the meeting rather than seeking to promote his alternative plans".
   The Ombudsman failed to present any evidence to prove 1.) that Councillor Murphy had made up his mind finally and irrevocably, and 2.) that he was planning to oppose the applications. The fact that he had sound reasons for opposing the applications [and not sordid personal gain as a motive] appears to make everything okay.

She concluded that Councillor Murphy should have declared a non-pecuniary interest and not taken part in the Planning Committee's proceedings. This conclusion appears to be based on the fact that Councillor Murphy had sketched out ideas for an alternative "Leisuregate" scheme - which had been dropped long before the Planning Committee meeting in question.
   However, as others at the meeting proposed motions to reject the applications, she considered that "the application would probably have been rejected even if [Councillor Murphy] had taken no part in the meeting".

The Ombudsman's decision was that "I cannot conclude that any injustice to the complainants has resulted from maladministration by the Council".
   The alleged 'maladministration' seems to be that the Council allowed Councillor Murphy to participate in the Planning Committee meeting. But, as the Council had no powers to prevent him from participating, there was no maladministration and this part of the judgement is garbage.

Concerning the decision to hold the meeting in the local Leisure Centre rather than the Macclesfield Council chamber, she concluded that, although there were some difficulties at the meeting, they were outweighed by the need for democracy to be seen to be taking place.

And finally, her report said, "I have seen no evidence which would suggest that had the meeting been held elsewhere the outcome would have been any different."

The Complaint

A large firm of developers sought planning permission from Macclesfield Borough Council for a site containing new office and factory space. When the permission was refused, a local company, which had been hoping to relocate to the development, appealed to the Local Government Ombudsman on the grounds that a councillor wrongly participated in the meeting at which the application was rejected.
   The local company had no right of appeal against the Planning Committee's decision as it was not the applicant. The Developers made the application but did not appeal against the decision. An appeal to the Ombudsman was the local company's only means of challenging the planning decision.

Tytherington Councillor Brendan Murphy, then Chairman of the Amenities and Recreation Committee, was a member of a Panel which approved the initial applications. However, he became increasingly concerned about the viability of the development, violations of planning regulations and the lack of consultation with himself and other councillors over proposed changes to the applications, which were being discussed with the Council's planning officers.

Councillor Murphy discovered that plans to relocate and improve playing fields on the development site were likely to be "put on the back burner" by the Developers, and four other councillors, whose wards were affected by the proposals, asked him to provide an update on the scheme, which he did. There was no planning application before the Council at that time (the original application had been abandoned) and he felt free to discuss other uses of the land.

Councillor X
Councillor X
{Pic. from Cllr.
Murphy's website}

Councillor X, the leader of the Council, refused to discuss the situation. Councillor Murphy went ahead and put forward an alternative use for the site "as a starting point for discussion". His "Leisuregate" concept appeared in the local press and Councillor X had Councillor Murphy removed from the chairmanship of his committee -- and eventually removed from the Conservative Group on the Council. [Councillor Murphy was subsequently re-elected as an Independent Councillor for Tytherington, defeating a Conservative candidate "parachuted in" by Councillor X.]

Councillor Murphy then dared to hold a public meeting to let the public know what the council was up to over the Danegate development.

Due to the high degree of public interest, the Planning Committee meeting at which the Developer's application was rejected was held at the Macclesfield Leisure Centre (rather than council chamber) on October, 16th, 2001.
400-500 members of the public attended to view the proceedings.

Councillor Murphy felt that he did not have an interest (financial or otherwise) to declare [his alternative "Leisuregate" proposal had been dropped], and he participated in the meeting with a clear conscience. He proposed a motion rejecting the application on several planning grounds. Other members amended the motion to include further rejection on highways grounds. The amended motion was carried by a clear majority and the 3 planning applications before the Committee were all refused.

NOTE: The Ombudsman declined to identify any of the participants in her report -- apart from Councillor Murphy. For the benefit of the curious, Councillor X is Councillor Peter Burns, currently leader of Macclesfield Borough Council's Conservative Group; the local company which approached the Ombudsman is Gradus [the MD, Bill Whitelaw, made the complaint against Councillor Murphy] and the Developer is Shepherds (who did not appeal against the planning decision).

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