A police investigation into allegedly fake letters of support for the major re-development of the Sully Sports and Social Club, appears to have ended – at least for the time being.
South Wales Police – who were called in by the Vale of Glamorgan Council to investigate the matter – have issued a statement saying “At this stage South Wales Police is not pursuing any lines of inquiry. However, as with all matters, should further information come to light, the force will reconsider this position.”
The inquiry began after the Vale of Glamorgan Council had revealed – in an internal report – concerns that an estimated 20% of all the letters sent to the council – supporting a controversial planning application to develop a huge new housing estate on the grounds of Sully Sports and Social Club – were probably forgeries.
Council investigators from its internal audit team were concerned that there might have been a coordinated attempt to exaggerate the degree of public support for the contentious project.
The development proposals – to build 200 homes on the site – had been submitted by a large and reputable stock-market-quoted public company St Modwen PLC, which acquired the bulk of the freehold in 2008.
The planning application proposed concentrating the sports facilities in a smaller area than at present – with a replacement clubhouse, three grassed pitches, an all-weather pitch, a new bowling green, pavilion and a touring caravan site. A total of 200 new homes would be built in an adjacent area .
The first hint that something was wrong came when the Vale of Glamorgan Planning Department was contacted by a member of the public about a “support letter” which bore his name and address – but which he denied ever having written. It was also established that no one else living at the same address had written the letter. The real author – who evidently forged the signature on the letter – remains a mystery.
The Vale Council Planning Department called in its internal audit team. Faced with a mound of 782 letters supporting the proposed St Modwen housing development, the team retrieved an initial batch of 378 of the letters – and then homed-in on a “randomly-selected” sample of 128 which were analysed in detail. Of that sample the audit team has concluded that 25 of the letters supporting the scheme (amounting to 20% of the sample) “may not be genuine” .
Councillors were warned in a report that they should be “aware of all the above when applying weight to the support as conveyed in these letters.“
When the planning application came before the Vale of Glamorgan Council planning committee on Thursday November 3rd 2016 , the chairman of the Vale Planning Committee Cllr Fred Johnson left the chamber after declaring an interest. [Cllr Johnson is a director of the Barry Plastics Sports and Leisure Company Ltd ] and his place was taken by planning vice-chair Cllr Margaret Wilkinson.
Cllr Margaret Wilkinson then warned councillors not to mention the “letters of support” because the matter had been “referred by the council to the police”. She said “No discussion will be permitted in relation to this aspect as this could pro-genst us [sic] in any appeal or anything like that. We could jeopardise – so we are not discussing anything that the police will come back on us”. [sic]
Her ruling was queried by Cllr Chris Franks (Plaid Dinas Powys) who asserted that the matter was not “sub- judice”, but council officers supported the vice-chair’s ruling and members of the committee then complied with it .
However, speaking for the proposal was Jo Davies, Senior Director of Planning Consultancy GVA – addressing the planning committee on behalf of the developers, St Modwen PLC. In her comments Ms Davies launched straight into the forbidden subject of the “letters of support”, and made the position of the developers – St Modwen PLC – clear .
She said “ Firstly, in relation to the [Vale] officers report regarding the support letters potentially not being genuine, I would like to state that St Modwen does not condone any misrepresentation of public opinion….”
Ms Davies was halted in her tracks by the Vice Chairman Cllr Wilkinson – who told her that she should not mention the letters of support . Ms Davies then went on to ask councillors to consider the application on its “material merits” .
In the event the planning application was refused.