New Milton Advertiser and Lymington Times Article - 3rd November 2017
NPA officer faces probe into MP who broke planning rules
A TOP officer at the New Forest National Park Authority could face investigation after it emerged an MP was granted planning approval to change her home – despite apparently breaking the rules in her application.
NPA chief executive Alison Barnes has been called upon to set up an independent probe into Steve Avery, the executive director for strategy and planning, over revelations concerning Caroline Nokes MP and a development at her home in Canada Road, West Wellow.
Ms Nokes represents the Romsey and Southampton North constituency and is a junior minister in the Department for Work and Pensions.
The NPA has been forced to defend its decision not to prosecute Ms Nokes after it emerged that she had wrongly stated in the application that the land was owned by her sister.
In a further twist, a complaint has also been made to Hampshire Police about the matter. The constabulary and the NPA have both said they are looking into the planning application but have not confirmed if they will be taking the matter further
Ms Nokes, who claims to be a planning expert and has publicly criticised developers for manipulating planning rules in the past, sought to downplay the issue, insisting a “genuine error” was made on the application.
The complaints against Ms Nokes and Mr Avery have been made by retired lawyer Don Jerrard, who has previously stood for election to parliament and for the Hampshire Police and Crime Commissioner role. Mr Jerrard went to Hampshire Police HQ on Tuesday to hand over a letter to Chief Constable Olivia Pinkney and he subsequently attended the NPA office in Lymington to deliver a letter calling on Ms Barnes to revisit the planning application and investigate Mr Avery.
“Ms Barnes must now call an independent investigation and look into the conduct of her senior officers, especially Steve Avery,” Mr Jerrard told the A&T. “This is extremely serious.”
Mr Jerrard stood against Ms Nokes for the Romsey and Southampton North seat at the General Election earlier this year. He said that on his election literature he claimed Ms Nokes had made false claims on a planning application.
After she won the seat, Mr Jerrard claims he was contacted by police and interviewed because Ms Nokes had reported him over the planning claim on the election literature.
But he pointed out Ms Nokes had now conceded her planning application contained a mistake. That showed her complaint to police about his election literature had been “malicious”, he said, and that was part of the reason he had reported her to police.
Planning documents reveal Ms Nokes made an application to the NPA to carry out works to the property known as “Moorland”, in Canada Road, West Wellow, in 2014.
The application included proposals to demolish a conservatory, store and outbuildings, and build a two-storey and single-storey extension, a detached double garage, stable and store building.
When it was approved with conditions later that year it was signed off by Mr Avery.
But the NPA has confirmed the application was submitted by Ms Nokes’ agent Graham Jenkins in the name of Elizabeth Bellingham, who is Ms Nokes’ sister.
The application, seen by the A&T, was signed on behalf of Mrs Bellingham and states that at the time no one except her owned any part of the land or the buildings to which it related. However, it is understood Mrs Bellingham has lived abroad for many years and Ms Nokes was the sole owner of the property and the land at the time.
The Town & Country Planning Act 1990 makes it an offence to issue a certificate in the course of a planning application which a person knows to be false or misleading.
In a further entanglement, Ms Nokes’ father is Cllr Roy Perry – the leader of Hampshire County Council. It is understood he lives in an ancillary building on Ms Nokes’ land that has been developed but is not involved in the revelations.
Responding to questions from the A&T, the NPA acknowledged there could have been an offence committed under planning law.
But a spokeswoman pointed out that while it was open to a local planning authority (LPA) to consider prosecuting such an offence, it had to be satisfied that doing so would be in the public interest and “represent a prudent use of public funds”.
The spokeswoman went on “In this case, in light of the relationship between the applicant and the owner, we have taken the view that it would not be in the interests of justice to pursue a prosecution in this instance as the owner (or any other third party) cannot reasonably be said to have been prejudiced.
“We have therefore concluded that it would not be in the public interest for us, as the LPA, to take the matter further.”
She added, “We have now received a further complaint from Mr Jerrard regarding the handling of the case which we are dealing with thoroughly through our formal complaints procedure.
“In line with our complaints procedure, Mr Jerrard will receive a detailed response to his complaint from the chief executive within 20 working days.”
The A&T put a series of questions about the planning application to Ms Nokes’ office.
In response, a spokesperson for the Tory MP replied: “This is a simple admin error which resulted in no profit or gain whatsoever.
The planning authority has confirmed under their scheme of delegations it would not have gone before committee and they consider the matter closed.”
The spokesperson said the ancillary property on Ms Nokes’ land – where it is understood Cllr Perry lives with his wife – was not part of the application that sparked the controversy.
This was inspected last year by the NPA, she claimed, and the NPA had confirmed in writing there was no breach of planning permission at the property.
She also pointed out that Mr Jerrard had made various complaints about Ms Nokes’ conduct over the past year or so to police and the planning authorities and no action had been taken.
Ms Nokes hit the headlines in 2010 when it emerged she was having an affair with a young Tory councilor. She later divorced her husband Marc.
Hampshire Police said it could not confirm which individuals Mr Jerrard had complained about.
The force added: “we can confirm we were contacted by a member of the public in relation to a planning application in the New Forest area. We are currently assessing the matter to identify if there are any criminal offences to be investigated.”
For further reading:
Sunday Times – 22nd October 2017
Minister broke planning law
Daily Echo – 26th October 2017
Calls for MP to quit after claims of misleading council planner
Sunday Times – 27th October 2017
Caroline Nokes faces police inquiry over ‘bogus’ planning papers
Nadine O’Connor – 28th October 2017
Nokes Agent, Graham Jenkins, must be investigated by the RICS
Daily Echo – 30th October 2017
Caroline Nokes MP to face police enquiries over claims that she misled council planners
Nadine O’Connor – 30th October 2017
‘Toxic Tory’ Caroline Nokes MP attempts to dump another ‘dead cat’ on the table