Council leader faces formal complaints over 'support' for giant warehouse

The leader of Kirklees Council is facing formal complaints over his perceived support for a massive and controversial warehouse scheme linked to online giant Amazon.

By Tony Earnshaw, Local Democracy Reporting Service
Tuesday, 21st September 2021, 1:17 pm
An illustrative masterplan of how the proposed Amazon distribution centre near Cleckheaton could look. Image: ISG Retail Ltd (Bristol)
An illustrative masterplan of how the proposed Amazon distribution centre near Cleckheaton could look. Image: ISG Retail Ltd (Bristol)

Coun Shabir Pandor has been criticised for appearing to suggest he was backing unpopular proposals to site a huge distribution facility on farmland near the M62 at Scholes.

Speaking in August at a meeting of the council’s overview and scrutiny management committee, Coun Pandor said: “You’ll also be aware that we’re going to have a big distribution company coming into Kirklees.

“I’m trying my best to actually get the one-and-a-half thousand jobs in place.”

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Leader of Kirklees Council, Coun Shabir Pandor

His comments prompted a complaint to council chief executive Jacqui Gedman by the action group Save Our Spen, which is spearheading the campaign against the development.

Chair of Save Our Spen, Sharon Lewis, said Coun Pandor’s comments “cast grave doubts on the integrity of the planning process” and created the impression that the warehouse scheme was “a done deal”.

She said Coun Pandor should provide details “at all stages” of his involvement in the planning process “for the sake of transparency and in the public interest”.

That complaint, dated August 14, has been acknowledged and forwarded to the relevant officer but has not been formally answered.

Coun Pandor was also on the receiving end of another complaint: that he, with the-then deputy leader Coun Peter McBride, requested that a public consultation exercise on the scheme be delayed until after May’s local elections.

However that complaint by resident Dave Hicks is not being progressed after the council’s chief legal officer, Julie Muscroft, decided Coun Pandor had not asked for information to be withheld that would affect the outcome of an election and so had not breached the Code of Conduct.

She said an email dated April 22 from community engagement consultants Instinctif Partners to senior council officers David Shepherd and Kate Mansell that “agreed with the Leader’s and Deputy Leader’s request that we hold back any announcements until after the elections” was “second-hand hearsay”.

She added: “I do not believe there is any evidence that Coun Pandor intervened, as suggested, and asked the officers involved to delay making any announcements.

“Against the background of this, I do have to consider the rules around the pre-election period.

“Guidance on this was issued both to elected members and to officers and the general gist of that was that it should be ‘business as usual’, but with a caveat that any major decisions that can wait, should wait.

“This is to avoid creating any perception that announcements are made with a view to influencing the election.”

Mr Hicks said he is considering whether to take the matter further.

Since making his comments in August, Coun Pandor has sought to distance himself from the Amazon scheme, which is earmarked for a 59-acre site near junction 26 of the motorway at Chain Bar.

He said: “I have not expressed support or otherwise for this particular planning application.

“The council has ambitious housing and job growth targets, which the Local Plan can help facilitate through the planning process.

“The land is privately owned and therefore what a landowner or applicant chooses to apply for planning permission for on private land is a matter for them.

“The acceptability of what they ask for planning permission for is then a matter for the local planning authority and the planning committee to decide.”