Poots under investigation: MLA insists his son has done nothing wrong

Edwin Poots MLA and son Luke Poots
Edwin Poots MLA and son Luke Poots

Lagan Valley DUP MLA Edwin Poots insists his son, Councillor Luke Poots, has always fulfilled his duties as chairman of Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council’s planning committee “in an honourable way”.

Councillor Poots is being investigated by council watchdog the Local Government Ethical Standards Directorate over an alleged conflict of interest, following a complaint by Green Party MLA Steven Agnew.

It’s understood the allegation relates to Cllr Poots voting on planning applications submitted by developers or individuals that his father has been representing.

Cllr Poots, who it’s understood denies any suggestion of wrongdoing, said he was unable make any comment while the investigation is ongoing.

However, Edwin Poots has described the complaint as “a smear based on innuendo”.

He has denied any conflict of interest, insisting that his son has always followed council protocol and legal advice provided by the local authority’s solicitor.

“Before I ever spoke at a planning committee Luke sought advice on the matter. He wanted to ensure that he was doing things above board and properly,” the former Environment Minister said.

“He has fulfilled his duties on the planning committee in an honourable way.

“The investigation will find that he has followed the legal advice that was given to the council.

“This complaint is based upon the fact that Luke participates in the planning committee where on occasion I would give evidence for or against a planning application.

“At the outset Luke raised the matter with the council’s director who sought legal advice from the council’s independent legal advisors who sit in on every planing committee meeting. He has followed that advice throughout his period as a councillor.

“There is no conflict of interest as we independently carry out our duties.”

Mr Poots says there have been instances when he and his son have taken different sides on planning applications.

“There are certainly cases he’s working on where he’s on the other side from me. We certainly don’t agree on every planning issue and we don’t agree on every issue in life,” he added.

Asked if he has ever pressed his son to vote a certain way, Mr Poots said “absolutely not”.

“We never get into that because there is a protocol to be followed and we follow that protocol.

“The councillors have to follow a protocol and I respect that,” he added.

Asked what legal advice had been provided to Cllr Poots, Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council said it would not be making any comment on the matter at this time.

Mr Agnew, who was unavailable for comment at the time of publication, told the BBC: “It is important that our planning system is above board and is seen to be above board.

“That is why I have asked the Ombudsman to investigate this, whether or not what has taken place is within the code or not, because I believe if this was happening across Northern Ireland councils, our planning policy and our decision making would be a joke.”

Asked to comment on Mr Poots’ suggestion that the complaint was “a smear based on innuendo”, a Green Party spokesperson denied that was the case, adding: “The Green Party cannot comment any further on this case because it is a live investigation, but can confirm that the complaint was made after the issue was raised with Steven Agnew by a Green Party member.”

A spokesperson for the Office of the Northern Ireland Ombudsman said: “We received a complaint in relation to an alleged conflict of interest within the Planning Committee of Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council. This matter has now been referred for investigation.

“This matter is being investigated by the Local Government Ethical Standards Directorate of NIPSO. An investigation will look at whether there was a breach of the 2014 Code of Conduct for Councillors. It may lead to no action being taken against the councillor, or a Hearing in front of the Commissioner for Standards.”