‘I was told to leave planning meeting’ says councillor opposed to new Southern Regional College building

Legal action is being considered by an Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon councillor after claims he was ousted from a committee meeting by a member of staff.

Thursday, 17th January 2019, 9:32 am
Updated Thursday, 7th February 2019, 5:32 pm
UKIP's David Jones.

At a pre-meeting of the Planning Committee Independent councillor David Jones claims he was asked to leave by a planning officer before it started.

The meeting had been called to discuss a major planning application to build the new Southern Regional College at the South Lakes in Craigavon.

Last night at a meeting in Banbridge the new £45m SRC building was given the go-ahead after a marathon six hour meeting.

Cllr Jones, who is a member of the Planning committee, has opposed the application but claimed he was shocked when he was told to leave the meeting.

He said the pre-meeting had been arranged prior to the main meeting on last night (January 16), due to the complexity of the SRC application.

He said a senior planning officer came to him as he awaited the start of the meeting.

“I was somewhat surprised to learn from the senior Planning Officer that due to ‘legal advice’ I should leave the meeting and not be present during the discussions,” said Cllr Jones.

“I explained I intended to stay and listen and not to speak. I was told I had to leave the meeting. This I did after speaking to another Planning Officer concerning two items that happened also to be on the agenda.

“I left the meeting with mixed feelings, not quite knowing what to think. A mixture of embarrassment, humiliation and later anger that I, as an elected representative, a member of a Council Committee for coming five years, had been told to leave that meeting by a civil servant.” Cllr Jones added that he had made a complaint to the Chief Executive.

“I do not believe a Planning Officer had any right, even following legal advice, to request an elected representative leave a meeting,” he said.

“My opposition to these developments is well known so why was I asked to ‘leave’ when I gave the assurance I would only listen?

“What was discussed at the meeting that I should not know about? Why the ‘secrecy’?

“Where, in this case, is the openness and transparency of governance we are supposed to expect from councils?

“Where is the trust in me as a committee member and an elected representative by those holding the meeting? If I cannot be ‘trusted’ on this issue then how can I be on other planning issues and applications? I consider this action an attack on my personal integrity.

“Does this action have an effect on the ‘due process’ that normally would be followed by planners and the Council Committee?”

A spokesperson for the council said: “The Council can confirm that Councillor Jones has submitted a complaint to the Chief Executive. This matter will be investigated in accordance with our complaints procedure.”