A leading Sunderland councillor has defended planning officers after claiming they came under attack from “bullies” over a controversial application.
Residents living close to a Sunderland University-owned field fought against a proposal to use the land at Weardale Avenue in Seaburn as stables fearing it was being used to pave the way for more homes.
As councillors backed officers in their recommendation to refuse it on the grounds of a lack of information on traffic impact, one of Sunderland City Council’s cabinet members spoke out, saying planners had come under verbal attack from those looking to “bully, intimidate and harass”.
Coun Michael Mordey, cabinet member for city services, spoke out at the authority’s recent Development Control (North Sunderland) Sub-Committee, after the conclusion of discussions on the proposals.
Coun Mordey, who sits on three planning committees as well as its highways and planning committee, told the meeting he was “shocked and appalled” by the way some people had acted towards committee members and officers.
He said: “This application process has been called ‘bent and deceitful’ and ‘manipulative and false’.
I find it absolutely abhorrent that planning staff have had their professional integrity impugned on social media for simply for doing their job.Councillor Michael Mordey
“I find it absolutely abhorrent that planning staff have had their professional integrity impugned on social media for simply for doing their job.
“Everyone has the right to object – but they do not have the right to bully, intimidate and harass.
“I believe that certain people need to seriously question their conscience as to how they have behaved throughout this process and apologise for their behaviour.
“I completely understand that feelings run high and tempers get frayed – but that is no excuse for some of the behaviour and language directed by certain individuals to officers of this council who are only doing their job.”
He added there had been no change to policy over site visits, despite allegations from objectors that it “restricts the democratic rights of citizens.”
He added: “I hope those individuals concerned will think on their actions during this whole process and we can all learn lessons as we move on.
“In conclusion chairman I hope we can all note the irony in the fact that after everything has been said all the false allegations of corruption and political incompetence have been made, the recommendation that came before us was what the objectors wanted all along – a refusal.
“How’s that for corruption?
“But I do think it is important to stand up to bullies and that is what I believe some people have tried to do during this process.”
Residents who campaigned against the plans have previously told the Echo they are concerned the decision only represents a stay of execution and that the application could still get through on appeal.
A spokesperson for the university said: “As previously stated the location and nature of the site at Seaburn do not support the University’s core business.
“Having received the outcome of our recent planning application we are now developing our longer term plans for the site and will make an announcement on these when they are ready to be shared.”