Council meetings with property giant revealed by protest group

Protestors outside St Helens Town Hall
Protestors outside St Helens Town Hall
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Campaigners fighting plans to build on St Helens green belt land have criticised council chiefs for holding meetings with a property developer.

The Rainford Action Group used Freedom of Information powers to request documents showing senior councillors and council officials met with representatives from property giant Peel Holdings six times over the past six months.

Campaigners staged a 'noisy protest' outside St Helens town hall at the last full council meeting

Campaigners staged a 'noisy protest' outside St Helens town hall at the last full council meeting

The group says their investigation has found there were no official minutes taken at any of the meetings.

However, council chiefs say there was “nothing unusual” about the meetings.

The Rainford Action Group is opposing St Helens Council’s Local Plan, which will see homes built on greenbelt land.

Peel are a large construction company and are currently behind the controversial Florida Farm development.

James Wright, chair of Rainford Action Group, said: “Peel Holdings have been given an extraordinary level of access to senior council staff and councillors. Why was it necessary for the council to have six meetings with Peel in six months while it ignored residents’ attempts to engage with them?

“We’ll never know because no public record was kept of what was said in these meetings, which is a disgrace that demonstrates St Helens Council’s total disregard for open democracy.

“How many other developers have had such access? Is it right developers can have so many meetings with the council and yet the council refuses to meet residents?

“This is further evidence that St Helens Council’s approach to development in the borough is completely wrong. They need to start listening to their voters and not billion-pound businesses.”

A St Helens Council spokesperson said: “The process of a planning application is separate to that of the Local Plan.

“There is nothing unusual in the council meeting parties wishing to submit a planning application.

“Council Officers have met with Peel Holdings in accordance with the Government’s National Planning Policy Framework in relation to their expected planning application on which they have publically consulted.

“This framework encourages local authorities to meet with developers in order to resolve any issues at pre application stage. These meetings formed part of the pre application engagement.”