Belfast Telegraph

Theresa Villiers: I did not break rules over railway plan

By Rebecca Black

SECRETARY of State Theresa Villiers has defended herself over claims that she broke ministerial rules by helping an old friend who was lobbying for a railway project.

It has been reported that the Northern Ireland minister is currently under investigation by Downing Street.

It's claimed that she held a private lunch with the representative of a company campaigning for planning permission for a railway depot between St Albans and London.

Afterwards, he is reported to have emailed Ms Villiers, asking her to "press the case for a speedy and supportive decision".

MP for St Albans Anne Main has lodged a formal complaint with the cabinet secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, accusing Ms Villiers of a potential breach of the ministerial code.

The £400m proposal for an international rail freight exchange is on 300 acres of green belt between St Albans, Hertfordshire, and London and is opposed by people living in the affluent village of Radlett, which would be badly affected.

Since the proposal was lodged by developers Helioslough in 2006, it has been thrown out by ministers who have cited a duty to protect the green belt.

In 2010, the communities secretary Eric Pickles refused an appeal, citing the green belt.

However, Helioslough later won a judicial review and the proposal is being considered once again.

Pickles has now signalled that he is "minded" to approve it.

Under Government rules, ministers are supposed to list all meetings with lobbyists.

A spokesman for Ms Villiers insisted that her meeting had nothing to do with the change of heart.

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