A SENIOR York councillor is being investigated for a potential breach of the council’s code of conduct after he said he would “go to hell in a handcart” before approving a planning application on green belt land.

Tony Fisher, chair of the planning committee, made the comment after abstaining on a vote to approve a plan for 83 homes in Dunnington.

Labour have called for Cllr Fisher’s resignation from the post of chair, claiming that his comments could be seen as predetermining his view on future applications.  

But Liberal Democrat Cllr Fisher later said he had voted previously for green belt applications – a matter of public record – and said he “may not have stated exactly what [he] intended to do” due to the side-effects of medication.

Cllr Fisher, a ward councillor for Strensall, made his initial comments at an October planning committee.

A cross-party group of councillors earlier this month decided a complaint submitted about the comments “met the requirements of the assessment criteria for complaints and that the public interest would be served by referring the complaint for investigation”.

The deputy monitoring officer will now appoint an external investigator to look into the matter.

Cllr Fisher said during the vote in October: “I am abstaining because I will go to hell in a handcart before I vote for a greenbelt application, I’m afraid.” 

After councillor Michael Pavolic asked him if he meant he would never approve an application on the greenbelt, Cllr Fisher said no and that he “generally opposed” greenbelt applications and that he could not support the application in question as he did not like the development.

“I’ll go to hell in a handcart before I vote for this one,” he added. 

Labour leader Pete Kilbane later said his words “undermine the credibility of this committee and cause significant risk to the council.”

Cllr Fisher said at the November meeting of the planning committee: “My comments at the last meeting were meant to imply that I would vote for a green belt application in the circumstances where the case for ‘very special circumstances’ had been clearly made and there were no technical reasons not to do so. 

“In the case of the Dunnington application, I was not entirely convinced by some aspects of the application so I chose to abstain.

“I will continue to approach each application with a completely open mind, making my decision on the evidence presented.”

In an argument about the minutes of October’s meeting, Cllr Fisher said opposition councillors had misunderstood his comment.

He added: “Go to hell in a handcart means ‘go downhill, deteriorate rapidly’ – that comes from the dictionary definition for it.”

A Liberal Democrat spokesperson said: “The politicisation of the standards process is deeply concerning and risks undermining any investigation. Opposition councillors have a history of using the council’s standards process to launch political attacks, which waste time and cost the taxpayer. It is disappointing that they are once again seeking to politicise and prejudice the complaints procedure in a desperate attempt to discredit local councillors.”