Published: 14:00, 22 March 2019
| Updated: 18:53, 22 March 2019
One of Kent's most-prominent housing firms has sacked an employee and disciplined another over suspicious comments supporting a planning application for 750 homes - one of which was thought to have been left in the name of a one-month-old baby.
Bosses at property developer Quinn Estates, based in Bridge, near Canterbury, say they have taken action after two members of staff used their own private social media accounts to reach out to people they knew to encourage them to support the company's Conningbrook Park scheme.
Chiefs want to build houses on fields off Willesborough Road in Kennington, Ashford, which has become known locally as the Large Burton estate.
The company, owned by property developer Mark Quinn, has submitted a hybrid application to Ashford Borough Council, which launched an investigation after a number of comments - some with incorrect road names or postcodes - appeared on the authority’s planning portal.
Concern was also raised over a Facebook group chat started by a Quinn Estates employee.
In a message sent to the group chat’s 50 members, the worker stated: “If you would like to support this new development you don’t need to do anything as I can submit a letter on your behalf so would just need your full postal address.”
Kennington ward councillor Nathan Iliffe (Con) says he was contacted by a concerned resident about the comments.
He said: "I have concerns over the validity of a number of supportive comments in favour of Conningbrook Park on the Ashford Borough Council planning portal and the apparent co-ordinated effort that has been made to effect the public consultation process.
"I am particularly concerned of the example a local resident sent me evidence of someone writing a comment in the name of a one-month-old baby.
"I could not believe it when I saw the message sent on Facebook to a number of Ashford residents by an employee of Quinn Estates offering to write supportive comments on their behalf.
"Quinn Estates should be proposing a development that will be to the benefit of the local area and Kennington residents.
"They should be confident that the public will support their proposals on its merit alone and not need to employ these tactics to give the perception of public support.
"In my opinion these tactics completely undermine the planning process. It is my strong belief that with any proposed development should consist of proper consultation with local residents and should be meaningful.
"Whoever has employed this strategy to attempt to weigh the results of the public consultation has made a complete mockery of the process.
"I trust the council to conduct a comprehensive investigation and to take appropriate action.”
In response to the concerns, Quinn Estates said: “Two members of staff, acting without the authority of Quinn Estates, have used their own private social media channels to reach out to people they knew to encourage them to support our Conningbrook Park scheme.
“It is entirely appropriate for property developers to seek support from the public, businesses and other interested parties for schemes and projects they wish to promote but the actions of the pair in this case is clearly unacceptable.
“As a result of what has occurred disciplinary action has been taken, with one member of staff dismissed with immediate effect.
“Thanks to this being brought to our attention, we have also launched a review of our internal processes to ensure correct procedures are followed at all times and sufficient training is in place to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”
More by this authorCharlie Harman