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ROBIN COOK AIDE HELPS DONOR IN WOLVERHAMPTON PLANNING DISPUTE

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A senior political aide to foreign secretary Robin Cook has been accused of 'inappropriate' lobbying on behalf of a...
A senior political aide to foreign secretary Robin Cook has been accused of 'inappropriate' lobbying on behalf of a Labour donor in a£15m planning dispute, according to The Sunday Times (p10).

Ken Purchase, parliamentary private secretary to Mr Cook, has been criticised for 'dabbling' in the dispute by his own Labour council in Wolverhampton. The MP for Wolverhampton North East offered

to intervene in favour of an out-of-town shopping centre proposed by the development arm of the insurance group Sun Life, which has donated£35,000 to Labour.

This weekend critics said he might have acted against the spirit of new government guidelines on planning issues for ministers and aides, introduced last month in the wake of allegations against environment minister Alan Meale. Mr Purchase denied wrongdoing but said he had not read the guidelines.

Documents seen by The Sunday Times show the MP recently tried to halt a high court action that the council was fighting against Sun Life. The Sun Life application is to develop 17 acres of brownfield site

for an out-of-town shopping centre, two miles from Wolverhampton city centre. However, it was rejected by the high court earlier this month after judges found it did not conform to government planning rules.

In recent letters to the council, Mr Purchase offered to negotiate an out-of-court settlement between the developer and the council. He argued that future jobs were at stake and the cost of forthcoming

legal proceedings would be 'formidable, win or lose'. But senior council officials say the MP should never have offered to act as a go-between. They claim he was 'misled' by the developers, who

exaggerated the costs. In fact, the court rejected the application and£100,000 costs were awarded against Sun Life.

In a letter to Mr Purchase, obtained by The Sunday Times, Ray Lewis, the council's director of planning, said that because of the court case 'it would be most inappropriate' for the MP to become

involved with the council in negotiations. He was supported by John McCallum, the planning committee chairman.

The MP insisted he had no idea that Sun Life was a substantial Labour donor. He denied he had acted improperly and said he had simply lobbied for jobs.

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