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RULES TIGHTENED BY GOVERNMENT AFTER ENVIRONMENT MINISTER IN 'FAVOURS SCANDAL'

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Parliamentary aides in the department of the environment, transport and the regions will be bound by the same stric...
Parliamentary aides in the department of the environment, transport and the regions will be bound by the same strict rules as ministers on intervening in planning applications, it was announced by deputy prime minister John Prescott last night, reports The Independent (p1).

The move follows a story in The Sunday Times (p1) which reported that environment minister Alan Meale was at the centre of an alleged 'political favours' scandal after privately lobbying to develop green-belt land on behalf of a millionaire businessman, Tony Kleanthous.

Mr Meale, MP for Mansfield, has been accused of breaching parliamentary convention after he intervened in a planning inquiry to press for a controversial£14m sports complex in Barnet, north London. The project, including a new home for Barnet FC, which is owned by Mr Kleanthous, is opposed by the local Labour MP, Andrew Dismore.

The Sunday Times said Mr Meale lobbied for the scheme this year when he was parliamentary private secretary to John Prescott. He has since been promoted to a ministerial post in the DETR.

The planning inquiry ended three months ago and an inspector's report is due to go to Mr Prescott for a decision on whether to approve the proposal. Mr Meale, a supporter of the Greek-Cypriot community, of which Mr Kleanthous is a prominent member, is said to have written a series of letters to senior civil servants and planning minister Richard Caborn urging them to back the project.

More than 1,000 local residents have campaigned against the plan, claiming it breaches the government's policy of protecting the green belt. In a letter to them Mr Dismore, MP for Hendon, said he was 'very concerned' to learn of Mr Meale's correspondence. 'I do not regard it as appropriate for an MP from another constituency to correspond over planning applications in a different member's constituency and not even have the courtesy of copying the documentation'.

Mr Dismore has since written to the inspector conducting the planning inquiry disassociating himself from Mr Meale's views and has also raised his concerns with Mr Caborn.

Mr Meale - whose constituency is 140 miles from Barnet - said he intervened in the inquiry because he was a football fan, had a record of supporting the sport in parliament and had been treasurer of the all-party football committee. He denied acting improperly and said he was unaware of any complaint from Mr Dismore.

- STATEMENT FROM THE DETR ON RULES LOBBYING BY MPs ON PLANNING ISSUES

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