One of the county's richest property developers treated the council's chief planning councillor to a Spanish weekend away.

At the end of September 2017 Mark Anderson paid £500 for John Philip to accompany him to Rioja in Spain, along with a number of others who had won the mini-break through a charitable auction.

The trip was recorded in the disclosure form of Cllr Philip, who is Epping Forest District Council's planning services portfolio holder and the man responsible for overseeing the area's 11,400 home Local Plan.

The councillor lives in Theydon Bois where he is friends with Mr Anderson, the owner of the 400 worker strong development and construction firm the Anderson Group.

As well as having personal wealth of £64m, Mr Anderson runs a foundation which helps fund ventures such as the Anderson School for autistic people in Chigwell.

In explaining how the trip - which helped support the school - came about, Cllr Philip said: "I have a personal connection to autism and I have done a number of things with the autism fund.

"People bid for the trip and about 60 went. I don't know if someone pulled out but at the last minute I was asked to go.

"We paid for our own flights."

When the enquiry into the Local Plan begins later this month the Anderson Group was due to make representations at four different hearings, although it subsequently pulled out. 

Cllr Philip argued that the trip had not put him in a compromised position.

He said: "We have been friends for quite a long time. The trip was relatively early in our friendship and it was a significant thing.

"I thought the right thing to do was to divulge it even though it wasn't a problem.

"I pride myself on the ability to look at the merits of the planning application that is in front of me."

Cllr Philip said neither he nor the council was in control of who makes representations.

Previously the planning chief led the opposition to an application by a subsidiary of the development company to turn the Sixteen String Jack pub in Coppice Row, Theydon Bois into housing.

After opposing two iterations of the plans Cllr Philip voted through an amended version in 2016 however.

He added: "I would have to consider in the future whether me viewing an Anderson Group application would be a problem.

"I don't think it would be. If it happened again I would declare it again.

"It depends on the scale of things."