Oldham’s head of planning Stephen Irvine has been suspended amid claims of “gross misconduct”, with the borough’s Liberal Democrat leader calling for an investigation as to whether the allegations focus on two controversial planning applications, including one by Russell Homes at Knowls Lane.
In a letter to Oldham Council’s deputy chief executive Helen Lockwood, Cllr Howard Sykes, leader of the borough’s Liberal Democrat group, flagged the Knowls Lane application as one of two schemes to be investigated following the allegations against Irvine. The other project relates to 32 houses for First Choice Homes at Hodge Clough Road.
Cllr Sykes said: “If it is the case that the allegations of ‘gross misconduct’ apply in any way to either of these applications, then I would ask that a similar process to the way that the approval decision for Saddleworth School was passed and then ‘revoked’, the decisions in relation to these applications are similarly ‘revoked’ and returned to the planning committee with appropriate reports for decision.
“The impact of both these applications is huge, especially in relation to openness, transparency and public confidence. People need their faith restoring in modern politics, the Liberal Democrats want answers for local residents.”
Irvine has been in his role since November 2015, having previously worked as a planning director at NLP, and at Cheshire East Council, where he was planning manager.
Oldham’s planning committee has been embroiled in controversy in recent months particularly around Russell Homes’ application; local groups vehemently opposed the project, which will see 265 houses built on a 39-acre greenfield site in the Lees area of the borough.
At the committee on 1 July, following the initial cases for and against the scheme, an initial motion to refuse was defeated by five votes to three; with shouts from the chamber calling for a decision to be deferred, and a confused break where the process of putting forward a motion to approve was explained, another vote was held.
Commitee chair Cllr Clint Phythian, councillor for Royton North, initially announced the decision was unanimous to an incredulous response from other speakers. A final figure of the vote was not announced by the chairman, who simply said the application had been approved, before adjourning the meeting. The decision was greeted by a wave of heckles and cries of “kangaroo court” from the public gallery.
At the same committee, proposals for 27 homes at Pearly Bank were also passed despite a vote having to take place three times. During the meeting planning process was explained to the committee’s chair in detail, before it was announced the project had been refused; however, following another vote, the scheme was approved following several miscounts.
Oldham Council has been contacted for comment.