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Council leader slams former mayor's 'hypocrisy' over attempted land deals
A Cheshire East councillor who has been campaigning against development in the green gap has been trying to promote his own open countryside land for housing, the Chronicle can exclusively reveal.
Ukip councillor Brian Silvester has been trying to strike a deal with Richborough Estates, a strategic land promotion company, for a 20-acre site he owns with his brother in Shavington.
The Chronicle has obtained copies of emails the Willaston and Rope councillor sent – from his Cheshire East Council email account – to the company.
The emails show that Cllr Silvester, who has been campaigning against developments in and around Crewe because, ‘maintaining the green gap is a massive issue for residents’, has been trying to cash in on his own countryside land by getting Richborough Estates to promote it as suitable for housing.
When approached by the Chronicle about the matter, the Willaston and Rope councillor said it was a ‘storm in a teacup’ because he jointly owned the land with his brother and some of the site, at Shavington House Farm, Crewe Road, was brownfield. Richborough refused to promote Cllr Silvester’s land, which could accommodate about 150 houses, for development.
In an email sent to the Ukip councillor in September of last year, company director Paul Campbell said: “We consider your site to be a step too far in eroding the gap between Shavington and Crewe.”
The email continued: “As a business we will only pursue sites that we feel are logical and technically sound and, frankly, we believe your site would cause significant landscape impact.”
He suggested if the councillor was unable to find anyone else willing to put in an application for him ‘maybe you could put an advert in the Crewe Chronicle if you’re struggling’.
The first email the Chronicle has seen in relation to this is dated November 29, 2012, and was sent from Cllr Silvester’s Cheshire East email account.
It is addressed to Richborough director Paul Campbell and reads: “Paul, Wain Homes have won their appeal to build 80 dwellings off Rope Lane in the Green Gap. Are you still interested in our land on the Shavington side of the bypass in light of this rather surprising decision? With best wishes, Brian.”
On December 3, when the company director replied he might be interested, Cllr Silvester emailed – again from his Cheshire East account – “I think there is a good window of opportunity for our site now but we need to move quickly before it closes. In light of that we have interest from a number of developers, so speed is of the essence.”
On December 7, 2012, Cllr Silvester emailed again: “Paul, Would you be interested in putting in an application now?”
On January 18, 2013, he emailed yet again: “Paul, What level of option fee and contribution towards our legal costs would you be willing to offer? What period of option would you require? Would you apply now for all the 20 acres or for a smaller area?”
Richborough Estates declined in September of last year to go ahead with any deal because of the sensitivity of the site and after learning Cllr Silvester had written a letter to Willaston residents asking them to object to its (Richborough’s) application off Moorfields.
Mr Campbell emailed Cllr Silvester to say: “Given your objection letter to all the residents of Willaston asking them to object to our application off Moorfields, I am afraid that I am going to have to decline promoting your land at Shavington. This is partly because you have gone out to try and seek people to object to our application on the grounds of green gap when your site is also green gap, which is a rather inconsistent and self-defeating position to the one taken on your own land, but also because we consider your site to be a step too far in eroding the gap between Shavington and Crewe.”
Councillor said he wouldn't stop his brother cashing in
Ukip councillor Brian Silvester has told the Chronicle the Shavington site in question is jointly owned and it would not be right to stop his brother from trying to cash in on the land.
Cllr Silvester also claimed the site is partly brownfield ‘and development is encouraged on brownfield sites’.
When the Chronicle pointed out the rest was green gap, the councillor again repeated he owned it in partnership with his brother.
“The land is not in my sole ownership,” he said. “I can’t stop my brother doing what he wants to do.”
When asked by the Chronicle if he was a 50/50 partner with his brother, Cllr Silvester said he was.
When it was then suggested that it would be difficult for his brother to go ahead with a scheme without his consent if they were equal partners, the Willaston and Rope councillor said: “It would not be right of me to stop my brother doing what he wants to do. That would be wrong. If he wants to proceed that’s up to him.”
Cllr Silvester insisted he was justified in campaigning against countryside development when he was trying to do the same on his own land.
He re-iterated part of his site brownfield.
“I’m supporting my residents to defend themselves against the unwanted development in the green gap and on my land, that is the land owned jointly with my brother, there has been no application so I don’t see what the problem is,” he said.
He added: “I think it’s a bit of a storm in a teacup because there’s no planning application [on his land] and even if there was I’m only a part owner and part of it is brownfield.”
The Chronicle asked Cllr Silvester why, if his brother was the main person behind the idea, it had been him [Cllr Silvester] who had made all the contact with the company.
He said: “I don’t think my brother liked using email at that time.”
He insisted he had done nothing wrong in using a council email address to try to conduct private business involving planning.
“That was only for convenience,” he said, adding the council allowed its members to use their council email for personal use.
Developer confirms contact with councillor
Riichborough Estates director Paul Campbell has confirmed to the Chronicle the emails between himself and Cllr Brian Silvester are genuine. The Chronicle contacted Mr Campbell to check the authenticity of the documents before speaking to the Ukip councillor.
Mr Campbell confirmed they were genuine exchanges between himself and Cllr Silvester and then explained how his company had first approached the Cheshire East councillor about the land three years ago.
“We would have sent out a whole raft of letters at the same time to landowners on the edge of Crewe and the villages,” said Mr Campbell.
“We get details from the Land Registry about who owns it.”
He said some people respond, others do not.
“Brian got in touch in 2011 to say he was keen,” said Mr Campbell.
The company director said everything went quiet for a while ‘then he started chasing me again when the Wain Homes decision came out’.
Mr Campbell said by then he had decided on another site and when he learned Cllr Silvester was also campaigning actively against his company over a Willaston scheme he was astounded.
“We always found it puzzling – the stance he was taking against our application when his actions spoke so differently on his own interests,” he said.
Councillor fought applications saying green gap was 'massive issue'
CHESHIRE East councillor Brian Silvester has expressed his opposition to several planning applications because they were in the green gap, despite trying to secure a deal on his own Shavington land.
In May of last year he told the Chronicle he was concerned about Gladman’s application for 95 homes on land at Audlem Road in Audlem and an application for a site off Newcastle Road in Willaston which was put forward by Emery Planning Partnership.
With regard to the Newcastle Road site, Cllr Silvester said he objected because ‘maintaining the green gap is a massive issue for residents’.
This week Cllr Silvester insisted he had done nothing wrong.
“The emails are well over a year ago and quite dated.
“I have been working very hard in the area inviting people to object to their (Richborough’s) application.
“I have done it for the appeal and they’re trying to stop me doing what I should be doing for my constituents.”
Cllr Silvester also emailed the Chronicle on Friday to say: “Further to our phone chat, [between himself and reporter Belinda Ryan] we [Cllr Silvester and his brother] own 12 acres to the north of the A500.
“The developers of Gresty Oaks approached us to include our land as part of their housing development and we declined because that land is entirely in the green gap and has no brown field land at all.”
A few minutes later he emailed the Chronicle again to add: “Richborough are having a go at me because they do not like the very vigorous way I am opposing their application/appeal for 170 houses off Moorfields, Willaston, on behalf of my constituents, who are vehemently opposed to the application. Instead of making the case for their application they choose to attack me personally, when all I am doing is to defend the interests of my residents as I have always done and will continue to do so.”
Cllr Silvester, the former deputy leader of Cheshire East, who is also an ex-leader of Crewe and Nantwich Borough Council and a former Crewe and Nantwich mayor, quit the Conservative party in November 2012.
At the time his political future was being discussed by the party, following his criminal conviction the month before.
He and his brother Colin were fined £45,000 and ordered to pay £22,000 costs after pleading guilty at Chester Crown Court to a catalogue of fire safety breaches at the building they rented out as bedsits on Crewe Road in Shavington.
At the time the court heard from prosecutor Bernard Thorogood that when fire officers had carried out an inspection of the property ‘the risk of serious injury was so significant that immediate action needed to be taken and a prohibition notice was issued. The circumstances were such that a fire would have spread rapidly throughout the premises’.
Cllr Silvester – who once stood as a parliamentary candidate for the Tories – refused to stand down from Cheshire East despite numerous calls for his resignation because of his criminal conviction.
He represented the people of Willaston and Rope for several months as an Independent before joining Ukip in June of last year.
Council to probe councillor's conduct
Cheshire East Council has asked the Chronicle to hand over the correspondence we have showing Cllr Brian Silvester used his council email to try to conduct personal business with a land developer.
The Chronicle contacted Cheshire East for a statement after seeing the emails. Cheshire East Council has since asked us for a ‘copy of the dossier as the leader will want to pass that to the monitoring officer’.
This means the council will now consider whether or not the Ukip councillor has broken the council’s code of conduct. Cllr Silvester has not acted illegally in any way.
Cheshire East leader Michael Jones was incensed when he was approached by the Chronicle. “To me, this would appear to be very hypocritical of Cllr Silvester and I’m really disappointed for the people of Willaston,” said Cllr Jones.
“I will now refer this to the monitoring officer because of him using Cheshire East equipment.”