Auditor clears council

District auditor Jim McWhirr has cleared a former council chief financial officer of wilful misconduct for his part in causing the loss of #31m in a property development dispute.

Martin Heys, who, along with former and current members and former officers at Welwyn Hatfield district council, was involved in the council’s deception of developers Slough Estates and Carroll Group over two proposed shopping centres in Hertfordshire.

Heys, who left the council in the late 1980s, was implicated in the case because he had been asked, along with chief planning officer Tony Moore, to secure the agreement of a council working party to rescind a tenant mix agreement – designed to limit the type and mixture of tenants in a shopping mall – in relation to the ‘Galleria’ development in Hatfield.

The auditor found Heys’ report strongly recommended the Galleria proposal and informed members the decision ‘cannot be minuted at this stage’ in view of the approval of a similar development just three miles away, known as the Howard Centre, and the sensitivity that those developers showed to the Galleria plans.

Welwyn Hatfield came under investigation when Slough initiated an action against the council for deceit for changing its policy on the TMA. A 1996 High Court judgment ordered the authority to pay #49m to Slough.

McWhirr did not find those involved guilty of wilful misconduct but said they ‘did not demonstrate the standards of conduct the public have a right to expect from local government members and officers’.

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