posted 28 Nov 2012, 08:17 by Westover Labour
Weeks of speculation about an alleged payment to Tesco authorised  by Sedgemoor's Chief Executive have
culminated in an agreement to launch the matter into the public domain. Senior Labour Councillors met with Sedgemoor's Monitoring Officer, Melanie Wellman, to discuss how best to handle issues surrounding the payment, allegedly made to resolve the 'technical difficulties' that have slowed the progress of Tesco's planning application for a store on the Northgate site. 
Chairman of Corporate Scrutiny Cllr Brian Smedley (Westover) (left) has put the item on his committee's agenda for Monday 3rd December, "to consider whether the Corporate Scrutiny Committee should add the following to its work programme:To review/investigate the decision to contribute to the Northgate planning application fee."

"Not a difficult decision"

In a letter to the Monitoring Officer he says "Please note that the Chief Executive has already stated that for him this was not a difficult decision as it took him only three seconds to decide to waive the fee. This whole process originated from a question that I asked at Council on 24th October as to why the Tesco planning application was not yet available despite sitting in the Council in tray for a month and was told by your deputy that this was for ‘technical reasons’. Now that we know these technical reasons, their resolution seems somewhat controversial and in need of explanation – not least to members who are awaiting the opportunity to consider a crucial planning application for the town but also to many others who now may feel aggrieved that their planning fees were not similarly reduced or waived and of course also to small traders such as those at West Quay who have been constantly told there is ‘no budget for a hardship fund’ yet there seems to be for a Multinational."

On advice from the Monitoring Officer he has circulated full details in a confidential circular to all Sedgemoor councillors, stressing that these are his personal views and not the views of the Council.

"Accountability, transparency and openness "

Labour group leader Cllr Mick Lerry (Victoria) (right) said  The decision by the Chief Executive of Sedgemoor District Council  to pay the
 for the Tesco application fee , as the applicant had refused to pay the fee requested,  does not seem appropriate. Therefore this decision should be scrutinised and discussed by councillors in terms of their role regarding governance and accountability of decisions made by officers of the council. There needs to be a process whereby this particular decision should be scrutinised in terms of transparency and openness. Such a precedent could lead the Council open to criticism from other developers and residents who pay the full fees for their planning application.” 

Brian Smedley added "Given the fundamental importance of respecting and upholding the separate roles of the Council as a landowner and as a Local Planning Authority if public confidence is to be maintained in the Council’s ability to determine Tesco’s planning application for the Northgate Development in an entirely impartial manner when it clearly has such a large financial interest in the outcome, it is vital that there is complete openness, transparency and accountability regarding the background to, details of and reasons for the Chief Executive’s decision made on 31 October 2012 to pay part of Tesco’s planning application fee for the Northgate Development despite this being Tesco’s responsibility under the terms of the sale contract (Development Agreement) for the Northgate Site dated 5 October 2011."

"ordinary people or big business?"

Labours Chair of Community Scrutiny Cllr Julian Taylor (Eastover) (left)said “I am very concerned that when the council is expecting householders to pay full planning application fees for alterations to their homes that a multibillion pound company, Tescos, should be offered a reduction in the fee. Whose side are the council administration on , ordinary people or big business?”