A COUNCIL planning chief investigated for his behaviour over a controversial supermarket proposal has hit out at critics after he was cleared of wrongdoing.

And now Labour chiefs are calling for the man who sparked the £15,000 probe to resign.

It comes after an independent investigator declared Millbrook councillor Mike Denness had not breached rules in his handling of plans by Lidl to build a new supermarket in Shirley.

The probe was sparked by Conservative opposition leader Jeremy Moulton, who complained that the Labour councillor had previously worked with Lidl through his employer, Local Dialogue.

Councillor Denness, a former Conservative election agent, has since accused his former party of launching a political “witch hunt” against him.

He said: “I felt at the time that this was a political smear by the opposition in an attempt to win my seat in May.

“I feel I have been the victim of a campaign by the Conservatives to politically and professionally smear me.”

Councillor Denness, a father-of-four, said the incident had caused a “great deal of upset” to his wife and children.

Labour council leader, Simon Letts, labelled the probe a “vendetta” and a “waste” of public money.

He also called on councillor Moulton to consider his position.

The investigation was launched in September following a complaint by councillor Moulton that councillor Denness had acted inappropriately during a public meeting to discuss a planning application by Lidl.

The meeting related to an application by the supermarket giant to build a new store on land formerly used occupied by Shirley Police Station, on Shirley Road.

A leaflet was handed out, asking residents to submit their views on the application.

On the letter there was a postal address for London-based planning consultants,  Local Dialogue - a company for which councillor Denness is an employee.

This sparked councillor Moulton to call for an independent investigation.

A probe was subsequently launched – at the cost of more than £15,000 to the council.

But the probe found that Local Dialogue had not engaged with Lidl over any applications in Southampton and that there was no evidence of a conflict of interest.

However, it said councillor Denness had “missed opportunities” to explain this.

Councillor Moulton said: “I still think his behaviour was unprofessional and inappropriate.”

Asked whether he would consider his position, he added: “Absolutely not.”