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Luke Poots to be investigated over alleged conflict of interest

DUP councillor Luke Poots with his father Edwin Poots, a DUP MLA

THE son of former health minister Edwin Poots is to be investigated by the standards watchdog over an alleged conflict of interest.

DUP councillor Luke Poots chairs Lisburn and Castlereagh City council's planning committee.

The watchdog that oversees standards in local government is examining if the code of conduct has been broken after it emerged that Mr Poots chaired and voted in planning meetings which were lobbied by his DUP MLA father.

Mr Poots denied any conflict of interest, saying he is "in the clear" despite admitting he been in the chair when lobbied by his father to support certain planning applications.

However, Mr Poots told the BBC he would no longer take part in decisions of the committee if his party colleague father was making making representation.

"On being appointed to the planning committee of Lisburn Castlereagh City Council, I asked for advice on my role if my father made representations to the committee," he said.

"The council received legal advice from their independent legal advisers which I have always followed.

"I have done everything by the book. I am 100 per cent in the clear. Every time I have been in the chair when my dad speaks, I have declared an interest."

Edwin Poots has successfully lobbied Lisburn and Castlereagh City on a number of occasions to have recommendations by planners overturned on behalf of constituents.

Last December, Luke Poots used his casting vote as chairman to ensure a controversial housing development on the Dromore Road in Hillsborough was passed. Edwin Poots urged the committee to overturn the planners' guidance, which they did with his son in the chair.

Alan Barr, who is a resident of the area, was one of 37 people who initially objected to the Dromore Road scheme.

Mr Barr told the BBC that the development was oversized, inappropriate and should not have been passed.

"It is a black and white issue, but yet the local councillors overturn the professional advice of their own planners, particularly when the casting vote was from the chairman of the committee - Mr Poots - son of Edwin Poots, who was there promoting the developer", Mr Barr said.

Edwin Poots defended his son saying there had been "no conflict of interest has been exercised in any shape or form".

"The council makes their decisions based on the information provided to them", he said.

Green Party North Down MLA Steven Agnew has raised a complaint with the Local Government Ethical Standards Directorate at the Ombudsman's office. It will examine if there has been a breach of the councillors' code of conduct.

"It is important that our planning system is above board and is seen to be above board," he said.

Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council said it had no comment to make on the matter.

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