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First Minister Peter Robinson lobbied for developer who funded Iris’s lover

By David Gordon

A direct lobbying link between Peter Robinson and the developer who stumped up £25,000 for his politician wife has been uncovered by the Belfast Telegraph.

Government papers show the top DUP couple became involved in 2006 over a planning application tabled by builder Ken Campbell.

A meeting with a direct rule minister was at one stage sought by the two MPs over the Comber scheme, located outside Mr Robinson's constituency.

When the application was subsequently progressed, Iris Robinson wrote a thank-you letter to a planning official.

Two years later, she obtained £25,000 from Mr Campbell for the cafe business of her teenage lover Kirk McCambley.

New details have also emerged of Mrs Robinson's lobbying for another of the businessman's housing developments in 2008 — around the same as he supplied the cafe funding.

The official papers have been provided to this newspaper by the Department of the Environment (DoE) following a freedom of information request.

Mr Campbell is a friend of the DUP couple, and also sold them a property in Newtownards in 2007 that became Mrs Robinson's constituency office base.

Land Registry documentation on this sale cited a figure of £1, but the politicians and builder have emphasised that a full price of some £200,000 was paid.

The £1 reference was explained as referring to a “trust arrangement” in place at that time. No further details of this trust have been made public to date.

The DoE documents show that in June 2006 officials deliberated over a request from Mr and Mrs Robinson for a meeting with the then direct rule Environment Minister David Cairns.

It concerned an application from one of Ken Campbell's firms for a housing development in Comber.

Mr Cairns agreed to the meeting request, but it was then cancelled on the basis of an undertaking given to the two MPs.

The Campbell plans were brought before Ards Council for approval in July 2006, with the formal approval notice issued two months later.

In 2008, the MP was back lobbying for another of Mr Campbell's business schemes, this time involving a proposed housing development site in Newtownards.

In May that year, she hosted a meeting in her constituency office on the proposal, attended by the developer himself. Also present were Planning and Roads Service officials.

In early July, Mrs Robinson wrote to Planning Service “as Member of Parliament for the area” to express her support for the development.

Mrs Robinson also contacted Ards Council about the scheme. It was eventually approved, despite objections from the local community.

In September 2008, the MP wrote to Planning Service again, copying notes that had been given to her by two objectors. “Perhaps you could allay some of the concerns they have,” she stated.

Mr Campbell also confirmed being a past DUP donor, involving a one-off sum of £4,000-£5,000.

Background

Lobbying on planning applications is a normal part of politics for councillors, MLAs and MPs.

The planning system here can often resemble a tug-of-war contest, and applicants large and small will naturally turn to elected representatives for support.

But it can become more complicated — and potentially risky — for politicians if they also become involved in private business transactions with the people they are lobbying for.

That's why the £50,000 obtained by Iris Robinson from two developers in 2008 has created such controversy. Full disclosure is of vital importance in this area, as detailed in the Assembly register of interests.

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