Labour MP's friendship prompts council planning concern

By Mark Daly
BBC Scotland Investigations Correspondent


There has been a demand for a criminal investigation into the planning process of one of Scotland's biggest councils after a BBC investigation revealed relationships between a millionaire developer and senior politicians.

The investigation reveals allegations that Michael McCann, the new Labour MP for East Kilbride, Strathhaven and Lesmahagow, has had an undeclared relationship with local property tycoon and Labour donor James Kean.

Mr McCann did not declare a relationship whilst he was a councillor, serving on the planning and estates committees in South Lanarkshire.

During Mr McCann's tenure numerous applications related to Mr Kean came before committee.

The BBC also learned that as an MP, Mr McCann vigorously intervened in a supermarket planning dispute, from which Mr Kean could end up making millions of pounds.

Image caption,
Michael McCann is pictured with former MP Adam Ingram and Labour donor James Kean

The MP wrote a letter detailing some 33 questions.

This follows a BBC investigation last year which revealed that Mr Kean was godfather to local Labour councillor Jim Docherty's child.

Mr Docherty, an influential member of the planning and estates committee, has never declared this relationship, despite supporting dozens of Mr Kean's proposals at committee.

SNP MSP Alex Neil has called for a criminal investigation into South Lanarkshire's planning process.

He said: "Very clearly there are legitimate questions to be asked and answered, and my view is, there is enough information made available by the BBC that there is a strong case for a criminal investigation, to establish whether anything untoward has actually happened.

"I'm not saying there has or hasn't, but I think to clear the air and make sure the system is above board in South Lanarkshire, there needs to be a criminal investigation to establish facts."

Mr Kean owns large tranches of land in South Lanarkshire, mainly in East Kilbride.

He is a longstanding Labour supporter, and has made, alongside his brother, donations totalling more than £5,000 to the East Kilbride Labour branch and to the Scottish Labour party.

Freedom of information

The BBC understands he has been an associate of Mr McCann's for at least six years.

Mr McCann won a bitterly fought election campaign in May last year.

The BBC understands he held his late night election victory party at Legends Bar, in East Kilbride village, a building owned by Mr Kean.

The BBC has also learned that Mr McCann's daughter stables her horse on Mr Kean's farm.

BBC Scotland asked Mr McCann what the financial arrangements for the stabling of the horse were, but he declined to answer.

There is no mention of it on his parliamentary register of member's interests.

Image caption,
Alex Neil told Mark Daly there were questions to be answered

As a councillor, Mr McCann supported numerous applications from Mr Kean's companies as they came through committee, never declaring an interest.

Eddie McAvoy, leader of the council, has confirmed to the BBC that Mr Kean and Mr McCann go "back a long time" but said it was up to an individual councillor to decide whether a relationship should be declared.

Mr McCann's interest in applications involving Mr Kean didn't stop when he left his job as a councillor.

Under Freedom of Information, the BBC has obtained a letter he wrote to Scottish Enterprise (SE) in September last year.

It indicates a forensic interest in its proposal to sell a piece of industrial land at West Mains Road, East Kilbride, to Asda, who want to build a supermarket.

SE's proposal is going head-to-head with another supermarket application, involving Tesco, who want to build on nearby Peel Park, much of which is owned by Mr Kean.

If successful, the land owned by Mr Kean and other companies linked to him could be worth up to £20m.

Only one is likely to go ahead, and the Kean-related bid was granted planning permission in October 2010.

'Perfectly legitimate'

But the developer behind the Asda bid, Dawn Developments, has taken the matter to judicial review, alleging the Tesco bid was given an unfair advantage by South Lanarkshire Council.

Now Mr McCann faces questions about why he got involved in a planning application which could have been in Mr Kean's interest to fail.

Scottish Enterprise refused to answer one of the questions because the information requested was deemed commercially sensitive.

His submission follows a similar letter to SE from his predecessor, former MP Adam Ingram over the same matter.

Mr Neil said: "Given the apparent relationship over a number of years between Mr McCann and Mr Kean, I think there is a case for the Parliamentary Standard's Commissioner in London investigating this case as to why Mr McCann is pursuing this matter.

"There might be perfectly legitimate reasons for him doing so, but I think there is a case for investigation to establish whether he is doing so in his role as a member of parliament, using that role and the powers it gives you legitimately, or whether he is abusing his power."

'Outrageous smears'

In East Kilbride, Mr McCann refuses to speak to his local newspaper, the East Kilbride News, which, during a tense election campaign, published questions from opponents about his relationship with Mr Kean.

Mr McCann does, however, write a column for the rival free-sheet, the EK Mail, which rents its office space from Mr Kean. Mr Kean is one of the paper's significant shareholders.

Mr McCann has accused the BBC of peddling "outrageous smears".

In a statement, he said: "This is a rehash of a smear story that appeared during the general election campaign and is simply untrue.

"BBC Scotland has made several unsubstantiated and false allegations, some of which originate from a Tory political opponent and journalist I defeated at the general election.

Image caption,
Mr McCann's daughter stables her horse on Mr Kean's farm

"Others are linked to an ongoing court case on a planning matter with which I have no involvement, but I am therefore prevented from discussing these outrageous smears in public until the legal process has ended.

"During my time as an elected member of South Lanarkshire Council's planning committee, I never once voted against a recommendation made by officers, I complied at all times with rules rightly imposed upon councillors and I therefore reject any allegation of impropriety whatsoever.

"[The BBC's] claim that I have a relationship with Mr Kean is wildly exaggerated."

Mr Kean's lawyer said his client "vigorously denies any wrongdoing in connection with securing any planning permission from any planning authority".

He also pointed to a report commissioned by Mr Kean and carried out by Mackay Planning, which analysed 50 of his planning applications and concluded that all had been "dealt following the correct procedures and there is no indication of any preferential treatment or maladministration."

A spokesman for South Lanarkshire Council said: "If the BBC is in possession of evidence that shows that any member of the council or employee acted in a way that was illegal, the council asks that this is provided to it as soon as possible, or, if appropriate, to the police.

"All decisions on applications for planning consent must be taken solely on planning merits, and councillors who sit on the planning committee have received appropriate training in this aspect."

More on this story will be broadcast on Radio Scotland at 1030 GMT on Sunday 27 February in Dinners, Deals and Donations.

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