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Ex-council officers under the spotlight

PUBLISHED: 16:56 29 June 2006 | UPDATED: 11:06 22 October 2010

RICHARD BATSON

Questions remained unanswered last night despite an internal investigation into a controversial land deal between a council and supermarket giants Tesco.

Questions remained unanswered last night despite an internal investigation into a controversial land deal between a council and supermarket giants Tesco.

The actions of two former top officers at North Norfolk District Council - chief executive Bruce Barrell and corporate director Graham Bull - were put under the spotlight in a hard-hitting report which criticised the authority for not involving councillors enough.

Last night councillors vented their anger and agreed a raft of recommendations aimed to stop a repeat of the saga.

But some members - and store wars rivals Budgens - felt there were still questions left unanswered by the inquiry.

The two officers signed land deals just before a new council took the reigns in May 2003. And Mr Bull also failed to notify councillors early enough of a clause which stopped the council promoting development of an alternative site where Budgens had planning permission.

Councillor Graham Jones told the meeting the actions of the officers were “deplorable and amateurish” and should be condemned.

Benjamin Cabbell Manners said the deal was signed in “undue haste” and the officers should have waited to see what the new council wanted to do.

However councillors were told the officers had done nothing improper and were simply enacting a decision made by the executive committee and full council.

Current chief executive Philip Burton stressed the inquiry had not been “witch hunt” but a bid to ensure such incidents did not happen again.

Council leader Simon Partridge said councillors were angry and residents frustrated about the deal - which has reportedly been repeated by Tesco in a dozen other places around the country.

Some members who were calling for an independent judicial review of the saga, were told that the local government ombudsman and audit commission were also looking at the circumstances.

Councillors were told that, despite rumours of corruption, there was no evidence. The police had been informed twice, and declined to take action.

Monitoring officer Emma Duncan said Tesco repeatedly refused to provide notes of meetings with council throughout the inquiry but yesterday had agreed to co-operate - which “would have been handy a little earlier on.”

After the meeting Budgens property director James Pye said a lot of questions and concerns remained unanswered, and the company was taking legal advice on its next steps.

Anti tesco campaigners Scamrod felt the “shabby secret document signed in questionable circumstances” was still being used to bludgeon through an undemocratic and unacceptable planning decision, said spokesman Eroica Mildmay.


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