The ArgusCalls for Lewes council leader to resign (From The Argus)

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Calls for Lewes council leader to resign

The Argus: Rob Blackman Rob Blackman

COUNCILLORS have called for an investigation after accusing the leader of Lewes District Council of trying to use his position to get the authority to help out a club linked to the Tory Party.

Liberal Democrat councillors have said Conservative leader Coun Rob Blackman was wrong to have started negotiations with the Seaford and District Constitutional Club for a plan that would have financially benefited the club by leasing a social housing development to be built on the site.

Concerns arose after the club put a notice in its window saying its committee had formally agreed to enter into a partnership with Lewes District Council to provide a new club and income in the future.

It emerged the apparent “partnership” had been initiated by Coun Blackman, in his former role as lead member for regeneration.

But when the matter was raised with senior council officers, they told Coun Blackman the council was prohibited from entering into a legal partnership with the club.

Coun Blackman said: “When I found [the club] was in trouble I thought there aren’t many places in Seaford outside the National Park that’s available to build affordable houses, which we’re in short supply of.

“When we checked the constitution we found this wording that basically meant they were aligned, however loosely, to a political party and we couldn’t go in that direction.

“I’ve been very clear we can’t have a relationship with the Constitutional Club.”

But opposition councillors are calling for the leader to resign.

Peter Gardiner, Lib Dem councillor for Ringmer and Ouse Valley, said the matter was extremely worrying.

He said: “It appears that the Tory leader of the council has, in his council capacity, embarked upon a process that if successful would hugely benefit the finances of a club affiliated to his party.

“It is right that this matter is now subject to internal audit. If the position is as I understand it to be, then Councillor Blackman’s position is untenable, certainly as council leader but probably even as a councillor.”

According to the notice in the club’s window, which was taken down at the weekend, the concept of the plan will “be achieved by developing part of the site for a number of new homes in conjunction with Lewes District Council”.

Ian Fears, secretary of the club in Crouch Lane, Seaford, said the proposal for the plan had come from Coun Blackman but once the club’s affiliation was noted the idea was scrapped.

Emails, seen by The Argus, show a request from the Lib Dems for a formal investigation into the council’s involvement.

Coun Blackman said he completely agreed with his Lib Dem counterparts that the council could not be involved in the deal.

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