Counciller secretly met with developers

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A FORMER Wigan planning councillor is accused of inappropriate meetings with developers ahead of the approval of multi-million-pound housing projects.

Controversial Emma McGurrin, who left ruling Labour earlier in the year, is also alleged to have leaked possible confidential information to one of them while also accepting hospitality.

The ex-Standish member, who failed to be re-elected in May when she stood under the independent Real Labour banner, now faces a standards hearing on Bonfire Night.

It will take place even though the council’s already limited disciplinary powers can have no jurisdiction over members who have left the authority.

The process has been triggered by an official complaint about her conduct by her bitter political ward rival, independent Coun Gareth Fairhurst.

The pre-hearing investigation report found that Ms McGurrin had “extensive personal contact” with three housing development companies, HIMOR, Morris and Persimmon Homes, bidding to build homes in Standish centre for a “considerable period of time”.

And she had been in touch with high-level representatives from each “discussing and supporting” their proposals.

And it appeared to the investigator that the officials from Morris Homes believed that their dealing with ex-councillor McGurrin would be a conduit to direct discussions with chief executive Donna Hall and director of economy Steve Normington “to further their purposes”.

She has also breached council maladministration rules by discussing the planning applications at Standish Labour Group meetings.

There is no suggestion in the report that any of the developers had done anything wrong.

But it is alleged Coun McGurrin:

l DIRECTED Bradley Lane trading estate owner and developer HIMOR - part of the Wainhomes group - to arrange and hold consultation meetings which she attended and was asked to support its development proposals by circulating associated literature.

l PROVIDED information about the council’s Core Strategy masterplan “preferences” and potentially confidential details about medical practice capacity to HIMOR.

l HAD been offered and accepted hospitality from HIMOR (formal dinners with guest speakers David Blunkett and Leigh MP Andy Burnham MP - although both ended up being cancelled.

l BROUGHT her office into disrepute by giving a “wide range of contentious information” to the local press despite being asked by leader of the council Lord Smith to delay such action.

In one text from ex-Coun McGurrin to HIMOR she states: “Propose u fund and ill endorse and organise a public vote consultation (where the public vote on both choices) n show your proposal to the public of Standish over a three-day period (ballot counted on 4th day). Nothing at all is in to planning as yet. Emma.”

The council confirmed that it had now established a “full communication trail” between ex-Coun McGurrin and officers of HIMOR, Morris and Persimmon.

Because the information has been extracted directly from emails and text messages its validity cannot be contested.

The report recommends that ex-Coun McGurrin had breached the Code of Conduct by failing to conduct herself in a manner which wouldn’t bring her office into disrepute.

And it said she had used or attempted to use her position as a councillor improperly to confer or secure for herself or others an advantage of disadvantage.

It also considered she had breached elements of the councillors’ Planning Code of Good Practice.

Ms McGurrin was unavailable for comment at the time of going to press.