‘Conflict of interest’ claims over Whalley homes advice are refuted

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A COMPANY advising Ribble Valley Borough Council on how many new homes will be needed in the borough over the next 17 years is also working for two of the developers seeking to build some of those homes.

This has led to allegations of a conflict of interest by protestors opposed to new homes in Whalley – but the picture is not as straightforward as it might appear.

Nathaniel Lichfield and Partners is a national planning and design company with five regional offices across the country. It has been commissioned by Ribble Valley Borough Council to advise on the borough’s likely housing needs up to 2028 as part of the council’s development of its Core Strategy, a kind of planning blueprint to guide how many new houses can be built, of what type and where.

NLP also counts among its many clients the Commercial Estates Group and Co-operative Estates, two development companies seeking planning permission for major housing developments at Whalley.

NLP, however, is not working for those companies on those Whalley schemes or any others in the Ribble Valley, but on projects elsewhere.

Several Whalley residents have written to the Advertiser and Times alleging that as NLP is working for both the council and private developers there is a conflict of interests. One writer said residents would find the NLP situation “if not illegal, definitely immoral”, while another asked “did Ribble Valley Borough Council think to check their (NLP’s) credentials for conflicts of interest?”.

Now NLP and RVBC have responded to, and absolutely refuted, the allegations of any conflict of interest or other collusion.

In a statement, NLP senior planner Colin Robinson said: “Residents’ concerns are noted. However, NLP can confirm that, while the company acts for CEG and the Co-operative elsewhere in England, it is not employed on any projects by either of these companies in Ribble Valley. There is therefore no conflict of interest. In addition, all information and discussions with Ribble Valley Borough Council have been treated in confidence and NLP has not passed on any information to these companies.

“NLP is mindful of both professional and commercial conflicts and has a robust conflict check procedure in place which is an integral part of the company’s quality control procedures.”

RVBC chief executive Marshal Scott said: “Two Whalley residents have written to the council expressing concern regarding the appointment of planning consultants Nathaniel Lichfield and Partners to undertake work on the council’s Core Strategy.

“It is inevitable a national company such as Nathaniel Lichfield will have many clients across the private and public sector, and will therefore have measures in place to avoid potential conflicts of interest.

“The proposed number of houses to be built in Ribble Valley over the next 20 years will be based on many factors and will be subject not only to public consultation but an examination in public before being incorporated into the Core Strategy. The work of Nathaniel Lichfield and Partners in preparing housing figures for the Core Strategy has no bearing whatsoever in the determination of individual planning applications, including recent applications in Whalley and Clitheroe.”

The Housing Review report produced for the council by NLP recommends increasing the projected number of new homes needed per year (up to 2028) from the previous figure of 161 to anything up to 220. However, the council must decide whether to act on that advice and any new proposals it makes will be subject to public consultation.