Northern Ireland news

DUP councillor on planning committee works in Trevor Clarke's office

DUP councillor Jeannie Archibald with party MLA Trevor Clarke, and inset, how The Irish News revealed Mr Clarke's planning consultancy business
Brendan Hughes

ANOTHER DUP councillor on a local planning committee works in MLA Trevor Clarke's constituency office, it has emerged.

Mr Clarke has come under pressure since an Irish News investigation last week revealed his sideline business lobbying on behalf of planning applicants.

He has rejected concerns that his business is a conflict of interest breaching the assembly code of conduct, which prohibits paid advocacy.

Mr Clarke has however moved to suspend the operations of Versatile Consultancy, which has been the planning agent for several applications in the Antrim area in recent years.

It was also revealed his wife Linda Clarke – a DUP councillor who also works in his office – did not declare an interest and continued to participate in votes for applications Mr Clarke lobbied on in 2017 during a period when he was not an MLA.

Another DUP councillor who works in Mr Clarke's office, Antrim and Newtownabbey's current mayor John Smyth, backed some Versatile applications when they came before the planning committee.

It has now emerged that a third DUP councillor on the planning committee, newly elected rep Jeannie Archibald, also works in Mr Clarke's constituency office.

How The Irish News reported on DUP MLA Trevor Clarke's planning consultancy business

No Versatile-related applications have come before the committee since she became a member, but in June Ms Archibald voted on an NI Water application upon which Mr Clarke made representations.

Mr Clarke spoke on behalf of residents against the plans for a replacement pumping station in Randalstown.

Council planners had recommended approving the application but dozens of written objections were submitted from residents.

Ms Archibald was the councillor who proposed refusing the application. A majority of members backed the proposal to refuse.

No interests were declared in relation to the application.

In a statement Ms Archibald said: "I judge all planning cases on their merit. I abide by the code of conduct and make all necessary declarations."

Mr Clarke earns thousands of pounds as a partner in Versatile.

The DUP's Trevor and Linda Clarke with party leader Arlene Foster

Files show correspondence between Mr Clarke and council officials about its applications, while a constituency office worker also sent emails "on behalf of Trevor Clarke MLA". He also spoke in favour of one application when it came before the council's planning committee this year.

According to the code of conduct, councillors should withdraw from discussions where they have a "pecuniary interest, direct or indirect", and declare significant private or personal non-pecuniary interests.

The DUP said Trevor and Linda Clarke would be referring themselves to the "respective ombudsmen to investigate" to "prove they made all the relevant declarations and adhered to all rules".

However, Stormont's collapse means there is no standards commissioner in post to investigate complaints against MLAs.

Mr Smyth said: "At all times, I have acted in an open and transparent way. I reject any insinuations made against my character and will cooperate with any statutory investigation."

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