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Councillors cleared of any wrongdoing

PUBLISHED: 08:00 07 September 2009 | UPDATED: 11:57 06 July 2010

Two long-serving county councillors have been cleared of wrongdoing after a retired barrister accused them of failing to declare an interest when deciding on the £35m expansion of a British Sugar factory.

Two long-serving county councillors have been cleared of wrongdoing after a retired barrister accused them of failing to declare an interest when deciding on the £35m expansion of a British Sugar factory.

Adrian Gunson and Steven Dorrington, who have served for a total of 52 years on Norfolk County Council, were referred to the standards committee of the Broads Authority because of the allegation by Gary Simons.

Mr Simons, who lives in Cantley, the village where the factory is based, said the two men should have declared a personal interest when they sat on the authority's planning committee to decide the plan on February 6. He said the expansion would benefit the Yarmouth outer harbour scheme, which the county council had an interest in because it had invested more than £4m in it.

The Broads Authority appointed an independent solicitor to investigate the claims. He found there was no interest to declare and Mr Dorrington and Mr Gunson were cleared by the authority's standards committee on August 25.

Last night, Mr Dorrington, member for Hingham, said: "We are representatives of the county council on the Broads Authority planning committee. One would assume you don't have to declare an interest if you've been appointed in that way.

"But, as a result of this, to state the obvious, we are now declaring an interest at meetings."

He added: "The allegation was that the outer harbour would benefit from this and the county had put lots of money into the project. That was supposed to amount to a conflict of interest.

"If you develop that argument further you wouldn't be able to have a member of the county council appointed to this committee."

He said the issue made him "feel uncomfortable", and added: "I don't mind being scrutinised, but in the last few years things have become onerous."

Mr Gunson, the member for Loddon, said: "I'm naturally pleased that the standards committee has vindicated my stance at the planning committee on this issue."

Mr Simons has made a similar allegation against David Thompson, who sat on the committee on February 6 and is also a member of Yarmouth Borough Council.

Mr Thompson is no longer a member of the Broads Authority's planning committee and the borough council is expected to decide on the complaint later this month.

The expansion plan, which paved the way for all-year-round working with imported sugar cane being processed during the summer, was passed on February 6.

But the application had to be re-heard - and was agreed again - in April because the Broads Authority did not inform villagers of the date and venue of the meeting, having promised to do so in an email to Cantley Parish Council chairman Robert Beadle.

Mr Simons was not available to comment.

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