MP accuses council of

By Roddy AshworthAN MP has accused his local borough council of "conniving" with a businessman in an act of "highway robbery" akin to that of Dick Turpin.

By Roddy Ashworth

AN MP has accused his local borough council of "conniving" with a businessman in an act of "highway robbery" akin to that of Dick Turpin.

Bob Russell, the Liberal Democrat MP for Colchester, made his comments in Parliament while discussing what he alleged were "corporately or criminally negligent" plans to narrow a road to allow a substantial housing estate to be built on adjacent land.

But the Liberal Democrat leader of the council, Colin Sykes, defended last night its members and staff, saying he found it hard to believe Mr Russell had made such a statement.

The proposals, which were passed by Colchester Borough Council's planning committee in November, concern land at the rear of Barrington, Canterbury and Bourne Roads in the New Town area of Colchester.

Mr Russell insisted in the House of Commons that developer Gordon Parker, who lives in the Colchester area, had acquired the land and been trying to build on it for years.

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He claimed because the only way to get to the area was via a narrow track, Mr Parker had not been able to do so for reasons of access.

However, by proposing to build out a section of pavement onto the existing Barrington Road –making it a single carriageway – a new junction had been proposed which would be adequate to serve an estate.

But Mr Russell insisted the junction would be dangerous and the construction of the wider footway would mean the developer being given part of the public highway – which he estimated at a value of between £600,000 and £1 million – for free.

"Mr Parker is not your usual developer. He specialises in assembling parcels of land by reaching the parts to which others choose not to go," Mr Russell claimed in the House of Commons.

"The methods by which he achieves this by stealth are something of a mystery. He is not the most popular man in Colchester. Indeed, over the years, his performance in relation to property dealings and developments has made him very unpopular.

"This is a recipe for disaster. It is worse than crazy: a coroner could construe it as corporately or criminally negligent, in terms of those who designed and approved it."

Mr Russell went on to suggest planning committee members had been wrongly persuaded to agree the plans by officers at Colchester Borough Council.

Residents were appalled at the decision to allow the scheme to go ahead and had been badly let down by the council, Mr Russell told Parliament

"In more than 30 years of elected public office I have never before seen such arm-twisting by officers, which has led to a majority of councillors on the planning committee performing an undignified somersault," he said.

Ray Gamble, the Liberal Democrat chairman of the planning committee, denied there had been any impropriety in the way the application had been processed and approved.

"This application went to the regional offices after Mr Russell asked them to have a look at it. They said they weren't going to call the decision in, which suggests they were satisfied with the way we handled it," he said.

Mr Gamble added the safety of the junction had been approved by the highways department and the advice received by the committee had been that the road layout was acceptable.

Commenting on Mr Russell's allegation that those approving the decision were corporately or criminally negligent, Mr Gamble said: "Mr Russell has certainly expressed his view very strongly.

"Speaking on behalf of the planning committee, I think members would find it very difficult to tally that kind of strong wording with the situation we dealt with. I am concerned that he should say it, but I cannot accept that it is right."

Mr Sykes said: "I have no reason whatsoever to believe Mr Russell's remarks are consistent with the way our planners work. I am surprised he has said this.

"Is Mr Russell suggesting our planning officers have in some way acted illegally or immorally, or outside their professional remit?

"In my 13 years on the council I have never known of anything happening within our planning department which could in any way be said to leave a bad odour."

Mr Parker – a former chairman of Colchester United Football Club - said he did not want to comment on Mr Russell's allegations, except to say although he was a landowner involved in the site, he was not the developer.

"I do not propose to make any comment at this moment in time. To me, the matter is a planning matter and in my mind that is where it should stay. I do not want to get involved in a debate on it. I do not think it is necessary," he added.

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