St Albans MP refuses to back down in row over minister’s lunch with lobbyist

Theresa Villiers, former Transport Minister

Theresa Villiers, former Transport Minister - Credit: Archant

A furious Anne Main has resubmitted her complaint to the Cabinet Secretary about a minister’s lunch wth a lobbyist from rail freight developers Helioslough.

The MP for St Albans has taken the step because she does not accept that the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, has addressed the allegation of a perception of a conflict of interest.

It follows a lunch meeting in August 2011 between Theresa Villiers, the then Transport Minister, and Simon Hoare, lobbyist for Helioslough, which wants to develop Radlett Airfield in Park Street as a massive Strategic Rail Freight Interchange (SRFI).

Mrs Main asked the Cabinet Secretary to investigate a possible breach of the Ministerial Code in September 2013 but has only just received a short response from him clearing Ms Villiers of any wrongdoing.

In her referral Mrs Main particularly highlighted General Principle 7.1 of the Ministerial Code which states that: “Ministers must ensure that no conflict arises, or could reasonably be perceived to arise, between their public duties and their private interests, financial or otherwise”.

Sir Jeremy took the view that Ms Villiers and Mr Hoare were long-standing friends and the lunch was a personal engagement at which the matter of the Helioslough application for Radlett Airfield was not raised.

He cleared Ms Villiers of any suggestion that she had taken any action or passed on the content of their discussion to officials or ministers in either the Department for Transport or Communities and Local Government.

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But Mrs Main does not believe he has dealt with the issue of whether Ms Villiers’ action leading up to and including the lunch with Mr Hoare could reasonably be perceived to constitute a conflict of interests.

She is particularly concerned that Ms Villiers requested a one-off meeting with the then Planning Minister Bob Neill to discuss the Radlett Airfield application prior to her meeting with Mr Hoare.

Mrs Main has raised several additional questions in resubmitting her complaint to the Cabinet Secretary including whether ‘intimate lunch conversations’ led Mr Hoare to submit Helioslough’s pro rail freight document to various departments in order to bolster their application.

Mrs Main said: “I am very angry and deeply disappointed by the scant response I have received. My letter of complaint was four pages long and the response was less than one and a half.

“My constituents could be forgiven for thinking this was a whitewash. This enquiry took over three months; never has it taken so long to say so little.”

She added: “I have immediately written back to the Cabinet Secretary asking why he has not addressed the specific allegations I have raised; this is simply not good enough.”

The SRFI application is currently with the county council as owners of the land. They have asked Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles to clarify his indication that he is ‘minded’ to approve the application before they take any decision about selling Radlett Airfield to Helioslough.