Council row erupts over claims of 'pressure' to withdraw steelworks electric arc furnace application call-in

Church Square House, Scunthorpe, where the special planning meeting was held, prompted by the call-in
-Credit: (Image: Copyright Unknown)


A council row has erupted over claims 'direct pressure' was exerted on a councillor to withdraw his call-in of the Scunthorpe steelworks electric arc furnace (EAF) application.

The EAF application was decided by councillors at a special planning meeting on April 30, after Labour Cllr Tony Ellerby called the decision in. This is a mechanism councillors take if they believe a matter should not happen under delegated powers.

Labour councillors at the meeting spoke of 'intimidation' to withdraw the call-in. Scunthorpe Live followed up, and their group leader has since clarified the matter relates to a senior elected member of the council. There is no suggestion of parties outside of the council pressuring for the call-in's withdrawal.

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The Conservative council leader Cllr Rob Waltham has indicated he did not recognise such call-in withdrawal pressure occurring. He has instead criticised Labour councillors for voting against the electric arc furnace. Though Labour councillors voted against the EAF, a Conservative councillor also did.

Labour intend to submit the matter to the North Lincolnshire Council's standards committee. The decision to approve British Steel's proposed electric arc furnace was decided by the chair's casting vote, with the planning committee split four-apiece. Cllr Ellerby called in the application on the grounds of significant public interest and stated in his speech making it "a public domain discussion" was one of his main reasons for calling it in.

During the meeting, Cllr Ellerby and committee member Cllr Max Bell both referenced 'intimidation' to withdraw the call-in. Cllr Bell described it as "frankly unacceptable intimidation to withdraw this call-in". He added: "I think the conduct of the council and how we've got this far is incredibly disreputable."

Scunthorpe Live later followed up these claims, and was provided with a statement by Labour group leader Cllr Len Foster. "At a point prior to the planning committee in relation to British Steel's EAF application, direct pressure was brought upon Cllr Ellerby to withdraw his call in of this particular application.

Cllr Tony Ellerby, Frodingham Ward, pictured at Rowland Road, called in the electric arc furnace application
Cllr Tony Ellerby, Frodingham Ward, pictured at Rowland Road, called in the electric arc furnace application -Credit:Labour Party

"By adopting this procedure Cllr Ellerby ensured that the application would go before the committee and not be determined under delegated powers by officers of the council. Cllr Ellerby's intentions were clear that he believed passionately that it is such an enormous issue for the whole of Scunthorpe that it had to be determined by elected representatives in a full and open debate.

"It is unprecedented that pressure should be brought upon any individual member to withdraw their ability to question the whole planning process as it effects our community right across North Lincolnshire.

"The call in process is one that is used by members on a regular basis right across the political spectrum where there is expressed concern about particular planning applications in their wards. I for one would defend that process and by trying to circumvent it in this particular manner is an abuse of the power of the leadership of the council."

Cllr Waltham indicated he did not recognise any contact or meeting by elected members or council officers that could be viewed as pressure to withdraw the call-in. He instead accused Labour councillors of hatching a plan to vote against the EAF, noting that Cllr Foster was on the committee as a substitute member.

"I have had a number of conversations with Cllr Len Foster about the change to green steel making, including my intention to speak at the planning committee to support the retention of blast furnaces as well as proposals to use electric arc furnaces. I was surprised to see Cllr Foster sitting on the committee and voting against an investment of this scale in British steel making, particularly when his party nationally have a policy on green steel.

"I think it is appalling that Labour are playing politics with steel workers' jobs at a time when British Steel are securing overseas contracts to supply Scunthorpe steel throughout the world."

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