MP calls for probe into behind-the-scenes rail freight meeting accusations (From St Albans & Harpenden Review)
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St Albans MP Anne Main calls for probe into behind-the-scenes rail freight meeting accusations
St Albans MP Anne Main is calling for a probe into a fellow Conservative politician’s failure to declare a meeting with the developers behind controversial plans to build a rail freight terminal in Park Street.
Mrs Main has written to cabinet secretary Jeremy Haywood after Chipping Barnet MP Theresa Villiers is said to have broken ministerial code by failing to report the potential conflict of interest during her time as Minister for Transport in 2011.
At the time of the alleged breach, developer Helioslough had re-submitted previously rejected plans for a huge rail freight terminal on green belt land on the former Radlett Aerodrome site.
Ms Villiers met with Helioslough’s chief lobbyist and old university friend Simon Hoare for lunch on August 10, weeks before the application was due to be reassessed by the secretary of state.
Mr Hoare followed up the meeting with an email requesting the support of Ms Villiers’ office in achieving "a positive result" on the decision.
The St Albans MP, who fiercely opposes the plans, claims Ms Villiers subsequently used her influence to inform what she calls a "puzzling" change in heart by secretary of state Eric Pickles.
Mr Pickles had previously rejected the bid but when it was sent back to him following a judicial review in July 2011, he invited submissions from interested parties.
The plans are still with his department and Mr Pickles recently said he was "minded to approve" the application, despite mass protests from politicians and campaigners.
Mrs Main wrote to Mr Haywood on September 10 requesting a full investigation of the alleged breach of the ministerial code, which she says could have a "potentially enormous consequences" for her St Albans constituents.
A spokesman for Mr Haywood confirmed his office had received the letter and said: "We will respond in due course."
Mrs Main said: "It is with great sadness that I have had to take this step, but I really must do the best for my constituents and I am left with the lingering feeling that there has not been a level playing field.
"My constituents certainly did not have the opportunity to have private lunches with the minister to put their point of view across.
"I see no other reason for Mr Hoare to meet with Ms Villiers other than to make a persuasive argument and bend the ear of an old friend.
"The ministerial code is in place to reassure the public that this cannot be the case. Lobbying behind the scenes gives a very bad impression to the public, and on this matter my constituents smell a rat."
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