Council leader says he has 'never, ever' interfered in planning process
The leader of Kirklees Council has declared he has “never, ever” interfered in the planning process.
Coun Shabir Pandor was seeking to clarify what critics believe to be his involvement in behind-the-scenes discussions around proposals for a massive distribution centre close to the M62 near Cleckheaton.
The 59-acre site has been linked to online retailer Amazon.
Coun Pandor has been under fire since speaking at a committee in August when he said he was trying his best to secure 1,500 jobs associated with a “big distribution company coming into Kirklees”.
His comments resulted in formal complaints being levelled against him by people living close to the warehouse site.
However although those complaints have since been thrown out, the controversy refuses to go away.
And at a meeting of full council on Wednesday evening, Coun Pandor was asked by Green group leader Coun Andrew Cooper to detail what he done to attract the jobs he talked about.
Coun Cooper asked: “Was it a phone call? An email? A meeting? If so, can you tell us with who, when and what was discussed?”
Coun Pandor said as council leader he was in “a continuous dialogue” with those that wanted to invest in jobs, housing “or anything else” that benefits the district.
But he stressed: “One thing I can assure you of: that never, ever will I – or have I – interfered in the planning process.
“That’s a distinction we need to make because to do that would be wrong.
"Also I have no power on the planning committee. I don’t sit on the planning committee [and] I’ve never, ever whipped any of my members or any other members in terms of voting one way or another.
“So I hope that’s very, very clear: that the role as leader, as cabinet, as councillors is completely separate to the role of the planning committee. I hope that clarifies the situation.”
A “disappointed” Coun Cooper said his question had not been answered.
“Just tell us what you did. When you said you did something, what did you do?”
Coun Pandor replied: “I don’t want to add anything else.
“It’s very, very clear that you are playing politics with this.”
There was a further question on the proposed Amazon site from the leader of the Liberal Democrat group, Coun John Lawson (Cleckheaton), who asked how Coun Pandor hoped to attract highly skilled and well-paid jobs “by welcoming applications for motorway distribution warehouses?”.
He also questioned whether distribution warehouses offered “a high-level design and layout” to present a “positive statement” at the location as laid out in papers dating from 2018 that have been released via a Freedom of Information request.
In response, Coun Pandor said Kirklees had higher than national and regional unemployment levels with 14,000 people on out of work benefits and that the borough faced “a big challenge and a big task”.
He said there were opportunities to create distribution centres in Kirklees as part of the growing area of logistics.
He said: “We need a range of jobs, a range of skills and a range of investment.
“If anybody wants to invest in Kirklees, to address the massive shortfall in employment [then] the higher the skilled job, the better for us.”
Speaking after the meeting, Coun Lawson said: “The leader made much play of engagement earlier in the meeting, yet refused to answer my questions on the relative employment value of distribution warehouses.
“My follow-up question about the use of key, strategic, high-value sites for this kind of development was also ignored in his response.
“The questions in this part of the agenda are written and Coun Pandor had time to prepare straightforward answers but he chose not to.”