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Chipping Barnet MP and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers faces probe into behind-the-scenes lobbying accusations over Radlett rail freight bid by Helioslough
Chipping Barnet MP Theresa Villiers is facing an investigation into allegations she broke the ministerial code by failing to declare a meeting with an influential lobbyist.
Fellow Conservative MP Anne Main has written to Cabinet Secretary Jeremy Haywood calling for a probe into the politician’s failure to report the potential conflict of interest during her time as Minister for Transport in 2011.
At the time of the alleged breach, developer Helioslough had re-submitted previously rejected plans for a huge rail freight terminal on green belt land between Radlett and St Albans in Hertfordshire.
Ms Villiers met with Helioslough’s chief lobbyist and old university friend Simon Hoare for lunch on August 10, weeks before the application was due to be reassessed by the Secretary of State.
Mr Hoare followed up the meeting with an email requesting the support of Ms Villiers’ office in achieving “a positive result” on the decision.
St Albans MP and fellow Tory Anne Main, opposing the plans, claims the now Secretary of State for Northern Ireland used her influence to inform what she calls a “puzzling” change in heart by Secretary of State Eric Pickles.
Mr Pickles had previously rejected the bid but when it was sent back to him following a judicial review in July 2011, he invited submissions from interested parties.
The plans are still with his department and Mr Pickles recently said he was “minded to approve” the application, despite mass protests from politicians and campaigners.
Ms Main write to Mr Haywood on September 10 requesting a full investigation of the alleged breach of the ministerial code, which she says could have a “potentially enormous consequences” for her St Albans constituents.
A spokesman for Mr Haywood confirmed his office had received the letter and said: “We will respond in due course.”
Ms Main said: “It is with great sadness that I have had to take this step, but I really must do the best for my constituents and I am left with the lingering feeling that there has not been a level playing field.
“My constituents certainly did not have the opportunity to have private lunches with the minister to put their point of view across.
“I see no other reason for Mr Hoare to meet with Ms Villiers other than to make a persuasive argument and bend the ear of an old friend.
“The ministerial code is in place to reassure the public that this cannot be the case. Lobbying behind the scenes gives a very bad impression to the public, and on this matter my constituents smell a rat.”
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