TEN Labour councillors on Blackburn with Darwen planning committee have been cleared by a major standards inquiry of malpractice over the controversial approval of proposals for a Muslim prayer room in Beardwood.
The 11-month probe by an independent investigator exonerated all of them, including chairman Jim Smith, “of conduct bringing the councillor or council into disrepute”.
Local government consultant Mike Dudfield said borough Labour leader Kate Hollern’s intervention over the application to transform the car park of the former Beardwood Garden Centre into an Islamic religious centre in 2011 involved nothing “inappropriate”.
Several of the 12 local complainants said the report failed to properly examine their concerns.
The permission has since been declared invalid because the council owns a small part of the land, now to be auctioned before the process can be started again.
In December 2011, the plans were recommended for refusal by officers, but councillors voted 10 to five to grant permission creating a storm of complaints.
Blackburn with Darwen council standards committee launched an investigation and will consider Mr Dudfield’s report next Thursday.
It found no evidence to support allegations the councillors had “predetermined” their decision in a Labour group meeting or wilfully ignored for political reasons the officers’ recommendation to refuse because of fears about parking, traffic and overdevelopment.
The 10 councillors involved are councillors Smith, Parvaiz Akhtar, Eileen Entwistle, Brian Taylor, Zamir Khan, Suleman Khonat, Trevor Maxfield, Carl Nuttall, Abdul Rehman and Phil Riley. Several complainants rejected the conclusions in letters to Mr Dudfield with Barbara Stillman claiming “clear evidence of a predetermined decision” and accusing the report of portraying Beardwood residents as “paranoid, delusional and racist”.
Mr Dudfield highlighted a legal difference between predisposition and pre-determination and found no evidence Coun Hollern or a Labour group meeting made the decision before the planning meeting.
Accepting objectors believed “collusion was taking place”, Mr Dudfield added the majority of the committee getting a decision wrong did not prove any malpractice.