Northern Ireland news

Council approves plans lobbied on by DUP MLA Trevor Clarke's firm

DUP MLA Trevor Clarke, and inset, how The Irish News reported on his sideline planning business
Brendan Hughes

COUNCILLORS have approved a planning application previously represented by DUP MLA Trevor Clarke's controversial sideline lobbying business.

The application sought retrospective approval for a track near Randalstown used as an exercise lane for horses.

It was among several applications which had been represented by Mr Clarke's business Versatile Consultancy when it was exposed earlier this year by an Irish News investigation.

The South Antrim MLA, who earns thousands of pounds from Versatile, has rejected concerns that it is a conflict of interest breaching assembly rules which prohibit paid advocacy.

However, Mr Clarke later withdrew Versatile from advising on applications "to avoid any further concern" and asked clients to appoint new agents.

It came after a farmer who sought Mr Clarke's help over his objections to the horse track told of his surprise at learning the MLA was lobbying for the plans through Versatile.

Brian McKeown said he had met with Mr Clarke in his constituency office, but at no stage did the MLA suggest his business may represent the applicant.

A planning application was later submitted with Versatile listed as the agent.

Antrim and Newtownabbey council's planning committee last month deferred making a decision, but on Wednesday a majority of councillors voted to approve the plans.

Planners had recommended approval, saying that the application would not significantly impact on neighbouring properties.

Alliance councillor Neil Kelly, who spoke to the committee on Mr McKeown's behalf, voiced concerns over the track being in close proximity to his property and safety fears that his farm machinery could scare horses.

Damien Kearney of DM Kearney Design – the new agent appointed for the applicant, Jim McAteer – said the plans comply with planning policy.

He said his client was willing to erect a fence and plant trees between the track and neighbouring property if it was deemed necessary.

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