Fraud Squad detectives have spoken to former and serving councillors in Doncaster in connection with an ambitious plan to build a championship golf course, leisure, hotel and business complex and 1,100 homes on prime agricultural and green belt land.
The Independent has learned that the Rossington Hall project is one of at least six developments being examined by detectives investigating the so-called Donnygate scandal, which has led to the suspension of the district Labour party.
An 18-strong police team expect to spend two years on their inquiry - Operation Danum - the Roman name for Doncaster.
The Rossington Hall development stemmed from Newcastle tycoon Sir John Hall's dream of turning a part of the Yorkshire countryside into a version of Wynyard Hall - his family's estate in Cleveland. His son Douglas is chairman of Rossington Hall Investments, the company behind the project.
Douglas Hall last week resigned as vice-chairman of Newcastle United football club after mocking the club's supporters and the women of Newcastle in comments made to an undercover newspaper reporter.
The Rossington Hall project, which was backed by the Professional Golfers Association European Tour, was expected to create 14,000 jobs and was supported by Doncaster councillors.
But the scheme ran into opposition from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the council's own planners.
Douglas Hall's company, Cameron Hall Developments, which has a majority shareholding in the company behind the Rossington Hall project said it had no comment on the police inquiry except to say that it was a "well- established and highly-respected development company".
The investigation into Doncaster began last April after serious concerns about the financial management of the local authority were highlighted by the District Auditor. In 1993 council officials revealed that they were being bullied by councillors over planning matters.
Detectives are investigating expenses irregularities, questionable awards of contracts and controversial planning matters. One councillor, two contractors and one council official have been arrested in connection with the inquiry. Five senior councillors have been suspended by the Labour party.
Last night Detective Chief Supt Mick Burdis, of South Yorkshire CID, who is heading the inquiry, said: "The rules of local government are well set down and very strict. In Doncaster there is a lot of evidence that these rules have not been applied and they have been abused by councillors and senior officials. That is very serious."
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