Councilors accused of breaching code over ‘brown envelope’ comment in Issa brothers planning row

Two senior councilors have been accused of breaching a council code of conduct. It comes over remarks they made during a heated debate over plans concerning the billionaire Issa brothers.

During a planning committee meeting about the approval of two buildings to be built by the billionaire duo, local Councilor Peter Britcliffe made remarks about ‘brown envelopes’.

While, Councilor Marlene Haworth said the move ‘stinks and needs investigating.’ The two elected officials are the subject of separate complaints from a council planning officer and a firm of planning agents LancsLive reports.

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Hyndburn Borough Council’s Conservative group leader, Councilor Marlene Haworth, and her deputy, Councilor Peter Britcliffe, made the comments as the authority’s March 23 planning committee meeting. It was while discussing an application by the property arm of Blackburn’s Issa brothers’ business empire.

Monte Blackburn Ltd was seeking backdated permission for changes to the previously approved design on two warehouses on its Frontier Park development in Oswaldtwistle. The two councilors questioned why the original approval for the buildings, granted in February 2020, was taken by an officer rather than by councillors.

The two councilors questioned why the original approval for the buildings, granted in February 2020, was taken by an officer rather than by councillors.

Coun Haworth said in the meeting: “Why did the original plans not go to a committee meeting for discussion yet two days later was approved under delegated powers by an officer who also works in the private sector offering the same services privately and advertises on social media ? This stinks and needs investigating.”

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Coun Britcliffe also wanted to know why this major application had not gone to planning committee but been decided by an officer. He told the meeting: “People are up in arms. I have read on social media allegations that brown paper envelopes have changed hands. They are blaming councillors.”

Now one Hyndburn planning officer has complained about both sets of remarks alleging they breach the Code of Conduct for Councilors at Hyndburn Council.

The officer claims that Coun Haworth named them at the meeting. They also said that the councillor ‘alleged incorrectly’ that they had not acted independently in respect of the planning application, had acted as a planning consultant, and had acted outside their remit in approving the initial planning application.

The complaint also alleges that the ‘tone and content’ of Coun Haworth’s remarks ‘failed to treat the officer with respect and defamed them by implying that bribery or other improper conduct had taken place’. The complaint against Coun Britcliffe says he ‘incorrectly implied that corruption had taken place in respect of the planning process in that instance, implying that planning officers were corrupt’.

Monte Blackburn’s agent PWA Planning has also submitted complaints to Hyndburn Council against both councilors saying they ‘made serious and slanderous personal attacks on council officers, accusing them of corruption without evidence and failing to treat them with respect’.

In response to the complaint, Coun Haworth said: “The planning officer is suggesting I made defamatory remarks about them. I never mentioned any names in the meeting. I do not retract what I said. I do not apologize for what I said because I was representing my residents and asking the questions my residents wanted asked. I was not having a go at any individual. I was criticizing the system we currently have in our planning office.”

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Coun Britcliffe said: “I merely pointed out that public opinion on this matter led them to have a very dim view of councilors who had not been involved in the process. I made no remarks inferring that planning officers had been involved in anything untoward.”

Hyndburn Council declined to comment.

The backdated planning application was approved on the Labor chair Cllr Dave Parkin’s casting vote after five Tory councillors voted against and five Labor for granting permission. At the March 23 meeting councillors were told that there was no requirement for major applications to go to committee adding there had been no valid objections to the original application.

The Issa’s have built a business empire which began after the brothers bought a petrol station in Bury.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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