Robust denial of wrongdoing but controversial Marshes planning application is deferred following allegations of improper pressure and political interference

By Neil Speight

16th Jul 2020 | Local News

Part of the email correspondence surrounding the Thurrock Marshes planning application
Part of the email correspondence surrounding the Thurrock Marshes planning application

IN the wake of a series of allegations of improper action, Thurock Nub News can report a major planning application has been withdrawn from the agenda of Thurrock Council's planning meeting this evening (Thursday, 16 July).

Any allegations of improper conduct have been robustly denied but Thurrock Nub News understands the whole application, which a majority of councillors had previously approved by a narrow majority, was taken from the agenda at tonight's meeting at the request of the applicant.

At tonight's meeting chairman Cllr Tom Kelly confirmed the matter had been deferred - but not withdrawn and it should come back to another meeting.

The controversial scheme for 161 new homes in the green belt had been passed by a majority of councillors on 19 March when they overrode planning officers' advice.

Among those who voted for the scheme were Conservative councillors Angela Lawrence, David Potter and Sue Sammons.

Because of the council's protocols the decision needed to return to the planning meeting to be voted on a second time because the decision has been made against officer advice. The item returned to the committee on 25 June and was further delayed for a site visit.

That has taken place and the matter was due to be decided this evening – but in the build up to the meeting a series of emails, screenshots and allegations of improper pressure being brought to bear on the Conservative councillors was made.

The information has also been copied in to senior officers, including the council's legal and monitoring officer, while Labour councillor Gerard Rice also forwarded them to officers and called for an inquiry.

Thurrock Nub News has seen all the emails and allegations. In summary it is alleged that the Thurrock Conservative group chairman, Tony Coughlin, a local activist and prominent campaigner against the Thurrock Marshes housing scheme, may have brought pressure to bear, directly or indirectly because of his position, on Conservative members to change their minds under fear of action against them from the party. He also failed to declare, when speaking against the application that he was the Conservative chairman and as such might have had an undue influence on some councillors.

In turn, Conservative councillors, knowing he would be speaking, did not declare their knowledge that Mr Coughlin held a senior position within their group.

Mr Coughlin has issued a strong defence of his position, telling Thurrock Nub News: "I have not at anytime contacted any members of the planning committee asking them to reverse, change minds or exert any pressure on anyone in this application and such allegations are rubbish, however I do question (as is my right) the hypocrisy of some on the planning committee when voting different ways depending which wards the housing applications are made.

"I am not under any obligation to declare any membership of any association (whether political or otherwise) when I address the council.

"Finally, I was never asked to declare any interest in any associations political or otherwise) and if requested then I would have done so."

Enshrined in planning law is the fact that all decisions made must be planning related only - and councillors are trained and warned against making decisions based on political affiliations.

Thurrock Council has been asked to comment.

The full planning application can be found here.

Related stories:

Councillors calls for rethink on planning green lightAnger after Thurrock Marshes plan is voted through


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