Monday, 5 December 2011

Stormy times for Northumberland Tories

The Conservative group on Northumberland County Council is experiencing a bit of turbulance of late. In particular their leader, wealthy landowner Cllr Peter Jackson, is facing a lot of criticism from local residents. An application for a controversial wind farm has come through to the council on land that is owned by Cllr Jackson. On 2nd November, Cllr Jackson curiously was reported in the Journal as saying that he knew nothing of the application and that he had no connections to the company applying, Ponteland Green Energy. He said that "I do not want to be seen to be for or against, I want the planning process to take its course and not influence it one way or the other" - very odd considering that if he didnt favour it, one cannot imagine the applicant even bothering to put in an application for it.

Ponteland Green Energy is a very odd company. It was founded as a company on the 11th July 2011, although the details weren't filed at companies house till October. It is a shell company, with one director and shareholder - Louis Fell. He is a surveyor at George F White, who submitted the application. He is also the son of one of the two managing partners of George F White, Hugh Fell. He is the director of 2 family companies as well as the Royal Agricultural Society of the Commonwealth and is on the board of Alnwick Sporting Club. The company is registered at the offices of Greaves, West and Ayre (accountants) in Berwick, who coincidentally audit the accounts for the Berwick Conservative party at no cost. Ponteland Green Energy is clearly a shell company set up purely for the purposes of this application. If additional directors have been taken on (its very unlikely to continue for long with only one director) it wont show up for a while.

One thing is for sure. As the land owner, Cllr Jackson will be set to profit massively from a successful development, either by being made a shareholder in Ponteland Green Energy or by being given a share of the profits.

Cllr Jackson was forced to admit in the Journal on 12th November that “it is true that I was contacted by George F White about the possibility of a planning application, ahead of it being submitted However, I was not aware of the details or timescale of the planning procedures, which is what I meant to express previously, albeit imperfectly. I accept that I might have been clearer on this point.”

The application is opposed by the local Town Council (controlled by the Tories), lots of local protestors and civic groups in the town. Many of the protestors have called in the journal on the 1st December and yesterday for Cllr Jackson to resign as a councilor. They feel he has been dishonest on a very important application in his area. The application is recommended for approval by planning officers and it will be interesting to see if the Conservative councillors on the committee declare an interest by being friends with the land owner. If not then it's clear he's not friends with them, if they do then there may not be many members left on the West area planning committee!

I do think the case shows the difficulties for the Conservatives in Northumberland. A lot of the senior councllors are big landowners and, whilst some senior conservatives like Cllr John Riddle and the Duke are implacably opposed to wind farms others are attracted to the lure of making big money from wind farm applications. There is a lot of tension about this. A motion that was put to council by Conservative deputy leader Glenn Snaderson about wind farms that was broadly critical was withdrawn just before the council at the last meeting at full council and a number of other anti wind farm campaigners on the tory benches have recently become becalmed.

At the same time, the Conservatives have selected their candidates for the local elections in 2013. I am told that a number of high profile councillors have been deselected, causing a lot of of noses to be put out of joint. It wouldn't surprise me if the top Tories on the council lose some of their breezy disposition over the next few months.

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