Council leader under fire after backing Amazon warehouse plan

A council leader has been urged to detail his involvement in plans for what is believed to be a massive Amazon distribution centre near Cleckheaton after backing promised employment at the site.

An artist’s impression of what the massive warehouse and distribution centre near Cleckheaton could look like

Shabir Pandor, who leads Kirklees Council, said the authority had ambitions to attract “big anchor institutions” to the borough and that he was trying his best to secure 1,500 jobs attached to the proposal.

The plan, for a 59-acre site at Scholes near Cleckheaton, close to the M62, has been controversial ever since it was unveiled in June.

It has yet to come to committee but already local people, who have set up an action group, councillors and recently-elected Batley and Spen MP Kim Leadbeater have been active in their opposition.

Leader of Kirklees Council, Coun Shabir Pandor

But there are fears that the huge facility is already a “done deal” after Coun Pandor appeared to give it his support.

Speaking at a meeting of the council’s overview and scrutiny management committee he said the authority had “big ambitions” for jobs and skills, which meant ensuring “the right businesses are located in the right places”.

In a direct reference to the Amazon development, which could employ around 1,500 people, he said: “You’ll also be aware that we’re going to have a big distribution company coming into Kirklees.

“I’m trying my best to actually get the one-and-a-half thousand jobs in place.

“Having said that my job is made a lot more harder because there are people who will, quite rightly from their point of view, object. So it’s very, very important that we have that big ambition … where big organisations can come and make big impact.”

He comments prompted a furious backlash, with one critic saying his comments smacked of pre-determination and that Coun Pandor, who represents Batley West for Labour, was “not fit” to be council leader.

Action group Save Our Spen said: “Coun Pandor’s comments cast grave doubts on the integrity of the planning process.

“[This is] a process that is supposed to be independent and unbiased with no undue influences applied to the strategic planning committee.

“His comments indicate otherwise, and for the sake of transparency and in the public interest, Coun Pandor should now give details of what his actual involvement, at all stages, has been in this particular planning process.”

Liberal Democrat peer and local councillor Baroness Kath Pinnock, whose Cleckheaton ward includes the Amazon site, said she was variously “appalled”, “outraged” and “really angry” at Coun Pandor’s statement.

“The man is not fit to be leader of the council,” she said, “and reason is the comments he made. He should know better.

“It’s right and proper for a leader of the council to have an ambition for employment and high-paid jobs.

“But it’s the council’s policy to create high-paid and skilled jobs, not minimum wage employment that Amazon offers.”

She said there was evidence that the online retailer had “inflated” its employment numbers at other sites across the UK and that she doubted the planned facility at Scholes would result in the projected 1,500 jobs.

Reacting further to Coun Pandor’s comments, she added: “People have been saying to me that the council have decided already. I have said that we have a fair system, and that it will go to committee.

“His comments totally undermine the democratic process and the independence of the planning decision.

“It smacks of pre-determination.

“No member of the cabinet should sit on the planning committee. If they have already decided as a cabinet, then they should not be a part of the decision-making process.

“It’s absolutely outrageous. If he wants Amazon he can have it somewhere in his own part of Batley.

“I am not having it in Cleckheaton.”