Minister under fire for property decision

Cheryl GillanStefan Rousseau/PA Wire/Press Association Images

Another day, another minister under fire for what appears to be a distinctly dodgy decision. This time it's Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan, who sold her home near the controversial HS2 route in November, just before the route got clearance.

Trains would have passed just 500 yards from her Amersham home, and the Labour party is demanding an inquiry as to whether she breached the ministerial code.

The sale

It's fair to say that things don't look brilliant. According to the Daily Mail Gillan decided to sell her home 20 months ago, but eventually agreed a sale just before the public announcement of the scheme at a 20% discount on the asking price.

The issue

The ministerial code states that ministers must not allow a conflict of interest between their ministerial duties and their personal financial interests. This can be a real conflict, or even a perceived one.

Clearly Gillan was aware of the destructive effect the link would have on the value of her 17th century home in Amersham, Buckinghamshire. She had been an outspoken opponent of the scheme, which crosses her constituency, during the election in 2010, but changed her mind when those behind the scheme agreed that much of the link in the area would be built within a tunnel.

The defence

However, Gillan is clear that there has been no wrong-doing. The 59-year-old was living in a three-storey townhouse with her 84-year-old husband. Her spokesman has pointed out that mobility problems meant the couple were not able to use their home properly which is what prompted the sale. It had also been on the market for 18 months, long before the announcement was due, and the reduction in price was to secure a sale in a stagnant market. She is adamant that she wasn't party to the final decision on HS2 - and had no knowledge or say in it.

The outcome of the furore remains to be seen. What is clear is that those affected by the rail line remain incensed, and a number of MPs are set to be punished for allowing the line through their constituency. There's every chance that despite her public fight and winning the building of a tunnel to protect the constituency, Gillan's seat may be a casualty of the controversial scheme.

But is this fair? Or is she being made a scapegoat for widespread anger at a scheme which will damage house prices for hundreds of homeowners? let us know in the comments.
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