Luton Borough Council denies conflict of interest over officer's dual role with planning company
A council officer's second job with the local authority's housing company has raised questions about a potential conflict of interests.
Luton Borough Council's housing company, Foxhall Homes Limited, was given the thumbs up last month to build 60 homes in Wandon Park, despite fierce opposition from local residents.
Now, the council's service director for property and infrastructure, Roger Kirk, has been thrust into the spotlight over his second role with Foxhall Homes Ltd.
Mr Kirk serves as the company's operation's director.
At yesterday's (Tuesday) executive committee, opposition councillors questioned whether Mr Kirk should have had any involvement in presenting a report on Wandon Park, given his second role with Foxhall Homes Ltd.
Liberal Democrat Barnfield councillor David Franks told the executive: "I've known Roger Kirk for a long time and worked with him on a number of issues over the years.
"I've never at any time had reason to question his integrity and I'm certainly not doing so now," he explained.
"However, he's clearly involved in this decision, although not as a decision maker.
"He has provided the information on which you're going to base your decision.
"It's clearly a mistake to put the officer in this position, given the number of people who say to us that the council fixes everything up to suit itself, whatever anyone else thinks is best for the town.
"You really should have got someone else to present this information."
Labour council leader and Lewsey councillor Hazel Simmons replied: "As a council officer, Roger isn't a decision maker, as you've highlighted.
"Therefore, there's no conflict of interest in his provision of advice to the executive. That's what I've been told and I support that."
In an email exchange with Liberal Democrat Stopsley councillor David Wynn, prior to the meeting, council chief executive Robin Porter said: "Roger Kirk is an officer, not a member.
"His oversight of his department or the authoring of the report isn't a conflict of interest. The report isn't flawed."
Councillor Wynn had labelled the report "flawed, because of the conflict of interest for Roger Kirk".
Residents opposed to the development on their neighbourhood park have been offered a replacement park on an neighbouring plot of land in north Hertfordshire.
The executive was asked to enter a deed of dedication with the charity Fields in Trust over this area of land, which has already been purchased by the council.
Councillor Simmons, who chairs the executive, said: "To secure the future of the replacement park, it's necessary to put in place a mechanism to ensure it remains public open space.
"The most appropriate means of securing this protection is to dedicate this park to the charity Fields in Trust.
"While the council will continue to have day-to-day control of the field, the charity could prevent any attempt to change the use of or to build new structures on this land.
"There 's no cost to obtaining this dedication beyond a small contribution to the organisation's fees.
"This is a long-term commitment, with no unilateral right to cancel."
Labour South councillor Paul Castleman said: "I represent a ward with the most temporary accommodation, where we house families in sometimes unsuitable and overcrowded conditions.
"By transferring over this land so we can't ever develop on it, this is an opportunity where we can get some affordable housing."
The executive, minus four members who declared an interest, unanimously agreed to proceed with the deed of dedication.