Vote twist saga

Controversial proposals to demolish a community building in Diss have taken a new twist after local Conservative councillors asked for permission to determine their own planning application.

Controversial proposals to demolish a community building in Diss have taken a new twist after local Conservative councillors asked for permission to determine their own planning application.

South Norfolk Conservative Association submitted plans earlier this year to redevelop its headquarters in Denmark Street into 14 mereside flats.

But the political party prompted concern from rival councillors and campaigners against the Grasmere building proposals after applying for special dispensation for some of its members to determine the scheme, despite having a prejudicial interest.

The council's standards and ethics and committee last night were due to discuss the application by the South Norfolk Council Conservative Group to enable 30 Conservative association members to speak and vote on the Grasmere development at a forthcoming planning committee.


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The district council is currently made up of 39 Tories and seven Liberal Democrat councillors. But party officials say that only five Conservative councillors would have a non prejudicial interest in the Grasmere scheme.

Christopher Kemp, group secretary of the South Norfolk Conservative Group said it was 'not practical' to allow non prejudiced members to determine the application because it would distort the political balance of the council.

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'There is no other way of dealing with it and it is not possible for it to be referred to another local authority. Applying for dispensation is not common, but it is not unusual.'

'There may be concerns about the merits of the application, but there have to be some mechanics for it to be determined,' he said.

A petition signed by more than 1,200 people was handed to the local authority earlier this month against plans to demolish the community building, in Diss, which is used by the Grasmere social club and ex-servicemen's associations. English Heritage has also called for the application to be withdrawn for more investigations to be carried out on some historic structures on the site.

Tim East, Liberal Democrat district councillor for Costessey, said rival councillors would have determined the application on its merits rather than political agendas. He added that the Conservative group was 'sailing rather close to the wind.'

John Davies, chairman of the Grasmere Club, added that he was concerned about the latest proposals.

'I was under the impression that the application was going to be referred to Breckland Council. Hopefully whoever decides will submit to local opinion and English Heritage's advice to withdraw the application,' he said.

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