The property developer who five years ago lent £25,000 to Iris Robinson to give to her then lover, was in such frequent contact with senior planners in the early 1980s that a file was created to record the contacts.
Fred Fraser, who died just weeks after the financial arrangement with Mrs Robinson, was for decades one of Northern Ireland’s biggest house builders.
Mr Fraser further came to wider public prominence when it emerged in 2010 that Mrs Robinson and her husband, First Minister Peter Robinson, had for £5 bought from Mr Fraser a strip of land allowing the development of part of their back garden for almost £460,000.
Government papers released at the Public Record Office in Belfast under the 30-year rule contain a file about Mr Fraser’s consistent contact with the most senior figures in the planning system.
The file, ‘Correspondence with Fraser Developments 1980-82’ is very substantial. The folder has ‘Destroy’ written across the front, though this has been scribbled out.
From the file, it seems that when a regional planning officer turned down one of his vast schemes for house-building because he believed it was against planning policies for the area Mr Fraser would at least sometimes go over his head, right to the top of the Planning Service, in an attempt to secure the lucrative planning approval.
At the start of the file a 1982 handwritten note from an unnamed official said: “Mr Fraser keeps a steady flow of letters going to me and to DPOs [District Planning Officers].
“Would you please open a file or files to put these papers in the most convenient place for recall.”
Many of the notes in the files relate to particular schemes proposed by Mr Fraser and meetings, phone calls or letters to John Davidson, the then chief planning officer.
A February 1982 meeting took place between Mr Fraser and the minister [David Mitchell] where Mr Fraser asked that his company be paid for laying a sewer which it had chosen to lay itself (rather than wait for Water Service to do so) and billed the department.
The note, from Mr Davidson, said: “The minister is anxious to respond quickly to this point if possible, and I agreed to take the matter up with you and advise him as soon as possible if payment could now be made.
“Mr Mitchell would wish to advise Mr Fraser himself and would hope that Mr Fraser’s request can be met.”
A month later, a note records that a payment of £9,000 – £27,000 in today’s money – and a further £800 would be paid when the landowner was happy with the reinstatement of the ground.
In passing on Mr Fraser’s request for the meeting, Mr Davidson described Fraser Developments Ltd as “one of the largest house building firms in the Province”.
In his request for the meeting, Mr Fraser said that he had heard that the minister had met other house builders, and added of the chief planning officer: “We would very much like you to be present at the meeting.”
The file also contains a 1980 letter from Londonderry’s divisional planning officer, W A Bloomfield, to the then chief planning officer, Mr N Hawker, about an attempt by Fraser Developments to build on about 100 acres of land on the Drumahoe side of the Crescent Link Road.
Mr Bloomfield said that the development would be contrary to “key parameters” for sewerage and holding back development of the skyline.
He said: “Mr Fraser’s modus operandi in his developments at Kilfennan has been to construct sewers larger than immediately necessary and to the extremity of the approved area.
“He then exerts pressure on the Planning Service with the argument that the adjoining land is ripe for development because it ties in with his present area and can be sewered.
“I have little doubt he has also advised you that he may not have another opportunity to purchase the land and that he must forward plan and establish a land bank in order to maintain his gang of brickies in the interest of employment, etc. I am not decrying his entrepreneurial approach, but we must recognise it as precisely that.”