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Councillor quits over turbine scandal

PUBLISHED: 08:00 30 October 2009 | UPDATED: 08:47 01 August 2010

A WAVENEY district councillor has quit his cabinet post after it emerged he voted against a wind turbine planning application without declaring that he lived in the area.

A WAVENEY district councillor has quit his cabinet post after it emerged he voted against a wind turbine planning application without declaring that he lived in the area.

Chris Punt, the portfolio holder for finance, stepped down with immediate effect after a meeting with leader Mark Bee, following five complaints about his conduct.

Mr Punt, who is also district councillor for Beccles north, also failed to mention that he worked for a firm which may be affected by the approval of the application.

He had agreed to stand in as a substitute for another councillor, Frank Mortimer, at the development control meeting last Wednesday where plans to build five wind turbines to power a Bernard Matthews plant at Holton, near Halesworth, were refused.

The councillor spoke against the plans, but did not declare that he lived in the parish, and had a prejudicial interest - breaking council rules.

The planning decision will now have to be re-run and the council has reported the matter to the Standards Board for England.

Both sides in the dispute over the controversial wind turbine plans have already said they are confident of winning a re-run of the battle.

A Bernard Matthews spokesman said it remained committed to its plans. “Bernard Matthews were disappointed that the Holton wind turbine proposal was initially rejected. We understand that there will be a further hearing of the application by Waveney District Council but we await details on this.

“We remain committed to developing renewable energy and believe the wind turbine proposals support the aims of the government's 'Renewables Obligation' and support our own corporate responsibility goals.”

Adrian Simpson-James, co-ordinator for campaign group Westhall Wind Watch, which has fought the Holton proposals from the outset, said: “Westhall Wind Watch regrets the effect this issue may have on progress towards a final decision on the Holton wind farm application.

“We remain confident that the facts surrounding the application led to the right decision being made by the development control committee. If the application is referred back to the committee we trust members to continue to show good judgement and common sense.

The Tory-run council has appointed Mike Ryland as the new portfolio holder for finance, while the opposition labour councillors called for Mr Punt to quit the authority completely.

Mr Bee stated “Following discussions Councillor Punt agrees that his position has become untenable and must resign his post as a member of the Waveney District Council cabinet. I accept that he was asked to step in as a substitute on the committee at the last minute and I accept his explanation that his actions were a dreadful oversight rather than anything more wilful.

“However such actions clearly have the potential to bring this authority into disrepute and….we must act swiftly and decisively to uphold the good reputation of Waveney District Council.

Labour group leader John Shanahan said: “This is not good enough. How can Mr Bee say that he has protected the good name of Waveney District Council and at the same time allow Councillor Punt to continue as a councillor.”

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