Councillor Accused Of Misconduct Is Cleared After Year Long Investigation
A COUNCILLOR accused of misconduct in a row which nearly cost Ely its precious Masterplan, has been cleared after a year-long investigation. Conservative Brian Ashton, who represents Ely, was reported to the local government watchdog last May following a
A COUNCILLOR accused of misconduct in a row which nearly cost Ely its precious Masterplan, has been cleared after a year-long investigation.
Conservative Brian Ashton, who represents Ely, was reported to the local government watchdog last May following accusations that he influenced decision-making about where to put housing and leisure facilities in the Ely Masterplan.
The Masterplan was suspended pending legal review, Cllr Ashton resigned as leader of East Cambs District Council and councillors who owned any land in the areas they were creating masterplans for, were taken off committees as a precaution.
A complaint was made to the Standards Board by Liberal Democrat Ian Allen, who made a Freedom of Information request for all emails and documents relating to the �50,000 Ely Masterplan in 2008, which forced Cllr Ashton's resignation from his post.
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The Ely Standard has not been allowed to see the report under local government legal guidelines, but it is understood that Cllr Ashton has been cleared.
"I am gratified that the report has exonerated me," said Cllr Ashton.
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"I have always believed that the truth would out. Nevertheless, there have been dark moments during these many months when I feared that it might not happen. To be falsely accused of corruption in such a public manner has been one of the worst experiences of my life."
Fred Brown, who took over as leader of East Cambridgeshire District Council in May, and is thought to be running for county council election, did not rule out a return to a leading role for his colleague, saying "it is for him to decide".
"Brian is well respected locally as a businessman and in service to his community," he told the Ely Standard. "He was a great player in trying to save the Princess of Wales Hospital and in other charitable areas, and has given most of his life to public service. When Cllr Allen made the allegation he made a judgement call and that judgement has been called into question.
The Masterplan could have been cleared up were it not for these political shenanigans."
But Cllr Allen remained unrepentant and has refused to apologise to Mr Ashton, adding: "I did the right thing, and I would do the same thing again. I opened up the Masterplan to public scrutiny."
Chairman of East Cambs District Cllr Peter Cresswell also gave his colleague a warm welcome back: "The fact that the investigation took 10 months shows how comprehensive it was. I am delighted that Cllr Ashton has been exonerated - he is a very honourable man who has made a strong contribution to public life over many years. I have the utmost respect for him and look forward to him playing a full part in council affairs in future."
Cllr Allen says has not ruled out taking the matter further and may make another complaint - but this time to the local government ombudsman, while Cllr Ashton says he is considering a return to public life.
0310HD0409. Brian Ashton.
Photo: HELEN DRAKE