23rd Sep, 2018

EXCLUSIVE: Planning rules 'breached' over £260k home of councillor and long-serving MP's election agent

Les Reid 31st May, 2017 Updated: 1st Jun, 2017

A SENIOR Coventry councillor is embroiled in allegations that rules were broken in a planning application for her family’s home, an Observer investigation can exclusively reveal.

The claims concern Labour councillor Rachel Lancaster and her mother Margaret Lancaster – an ex-councillor and the experienced election agent for long-serving MP Geoffrey Robinson.

Margaret Lancaster was named as the applicant on a planning application to Coventry City Council in May last year to build a first floor extension at a bungalow in Allesley, Coventry.

The application was approved and signed off in July last year by unelected council officer Tracy Miller, head of planning, who granted planning permission – rather than councillors.

But ‘safeguards’ in the council’s own constitutional rules and codes of conduct state planning decisions must NOT be taken by officers over planning applications where any councillor has an ‘interest’.

The applicants also declared on the planning application form that Mrs Lancaster owned the property.

Yet Land Registry documents reveal she did not.

They show Margaret Lancaster did not own the home until five months later, when it was purchased for £260,000.

The rules – adopted by other councils too – are designed to prevent any appearance of wrongdoing or special treatment for councillors. In such instances, it means elected councillors at a planning committee hearing in public should decide whether or not to grant planning permission.

Such matters are so potentially controversial that all Coventry City Council planning application forms require the applicant to state if a councillor or member of staff is related to the applicant.

Margaret Lancaster’s application DID declare her daughter Rachel as a councillor. Rachel Lancaster herself was the applicant to Warwick District Council for building regulations approval for the home.

Mystery also surrounds why Coun Lancaster only declared the Allesley home on her ‘Register of Interests’ this month, after questions were recently raised about the planning application.

Coun Lancaster appears to have moved her family into the renovated new home with her mother, who last month declared it as her address on official general election forms as Mr Robinson’s agent.

Coun Lancaster over months has posted photographs on social media of the home being renovated. Her contact details on the council’s website still give her old Holbrooks address, now understood to be rented out.

The new home attracted controversy last week when she ordered Coventry North west independent candidate Ciaran Norris – a former Labour member – off the property when he was doorstepping for votes. She tweeted: Just had the pleasure of asking party dropout Ciaran Norris to get off my property. #notimefordisloyalty

Coun Lancaster was a cabinet member under ex-council leader Ann Lucas until the latter was ousted last year.

Coun Lancaster was a planning committee member until her removal this month by fellow Labour councillors, when she was also removed as chair of the scrutiny co-ordination committee.

The section of Mrs Lancaster’s planning application form that declared she owned the home – signed by agent Simon Grove – is a formal declaration for a ‘certificate of ownership for planning applications’. Rules clearly state an application cannot be ‘valid’ if the certificate is ‘incorrect’.

The council and Coun Lancaster have so far declined to respond to our detailed questions.

A council spokesperson said only: “We have been made aware of these allegations. We have looked into them and are satisfied that Cllr Lancaster has not acted improperly.”

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