Daventry councillors voted through an application for a small new housing estate in Long Buckby after being assured ‘no deals were done under the table’.
The application to build 10 homes on the land at Station Road, originally intended to be an overspill car park for the rail station, proved controversial after the parish council changed its objection to the scheme on receipt of a £10,000 windfall from the developers.
Long Buckby Parish Council spoke out against the development as it felt it breached council policy on building in rural areas.
But following a meeting with developers Bovis Homes, the council voted to withdraw its objection.
Bovis agreed a ‘contribution’ to the parish of £10,000 in the form of a section 106 agreement, with £5,000 to go towards the recreation ground equipment and £5,000 agreed for street lighting improvements. The scheme will also contribute four affordable homes.
But a number of councillors on Daventry District Council’s planning committee, which was determining the scheme, felt uneasy about the change of heart from their parish colleagues.
Conservative councillor Richard Auger said: “It’s great that this is resolved because affordable houses are needed.
"But I just want some reassurance that we are comfortable with that legally, because it was originally about policy - then £10,000 was offered to the parish and the objection was withdrawn. Sometimes you get this feeling about something. Are we quite happy that there’s no suspicion that any form of corruption has taken place?”
The meeting took on an added dilemma in that Councillor Steve Osborne, the chair of the Daventry planning committee, was also the chairman of Long Buckby Parish Council. Councillor Osborne walked out from the planning debate and said he did not vote on the objection withdrawal at the parish council meeting because of his dual role. Planning officers admitted that the wording used by Councillor Osborne in describing the ‘successful’ parish council meeting had been ‘clumsy’.
Labour councillor Ken Ritchie added: “I think this stinks, it strikes me as being bribery. Perhaps the words chosen by our chair were not appropriate but Councillor Osborne has been in this process for a long time. To me, this will simply embolden developers. If Long Buckby are going to do this they should have at least demanded a decent amount of bribe. I just think it’s outrageous.”
But the Daventry councillors were given assurance by the district council’s executive director for community, Maria Taylor, who said that ‘officers were satisfied’ there was nothing to be worried with.
She said: “If there was any worry that there was corruption it would not be on the agenda and we would not be discussing it.”
She later added: “This is fundamentally how developers make deals with parish councils.”
A council solicitor added: “I can only suspect that if there was the slightest chance that deals were being done under the table then our chair would have made it clear.”
The committee eventually decided to grant the scheme planning permission, with seven votes in favour, four against, and with Councillor Auger abstaining.
Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service after the meeting, Councillor Osborne - who returned to his seat after the debate to chair the rest of the meeting - said: “The developer came along and said that it had been given an indication that it would get recommended for approval. They said if we removed the objection they would build 40 per cent affordable housing and give £10,000 towards local facilities.
“If the developer sold the land on then the new owners would not have had to provide any affordable housing at all. It was a matter of whether they wanted to remove their objection and gain something for the village out of it, or keep the objection and gain nothing.
“The parish council has been criticised in the past for not getting for the village, so that was the decision it took.”
Councillor Osborne reiterated that he had not voted in either the district council planning committee meeting, or the parish council meeting where the objection was withdrawn.