This is my press statement to The Haslemere Herald regarding dismissal of the Waverley Standards Panel appeal.
Having served Haslemere as an independent Surrey County Councillor and Town Councillor over the past 9 years, I have been committed to serving the local community. It is right that all councillors are held accountable for their conduct and I accept that I inadvertently failed to include on the council’s register of interests the fact I was a member of my local residents’ association. I had not considered this to be an organisation which required to be registered, but did so in 2020 having been advised it may need to be.
The Panel made no finding that I acted in anything other than good faith and there was no finding of personal gain or conflict of a pecuniary nature.
However, I do not accept the Panel’s finding that, as a councillor, being a member of my residents’ association meant that I could not be objective when voting on the town’s whole Neighbourhood Plan in November 2019 and that therefore I was in breach by taking part in the debate and vote. This bizarre finding means that I have had to withdraw my membership of the Haslemere South Residents’ Association (HSRA).
It is quite simply incredible that Waverley have seen fit to spend tens of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money on a complaint of this nature. Surrey Association of Local Councils considers it a minor type of breach. The non-declaration happened at a meeting where the Neighbourhood Plan, prepared on the back of years of work in the community, was approved virtually unanimously. At no point did Waverley make any genuine attempt to seek an earlier resolution to the matter.
What is even more staggering and the most disturbing thing about this case is the fact that the complaint (which Waverley has invested so much money in) came from the lawyers of the property developer who did not like the town’s carefully considered Neighbourhood Plan; it would make it harder for him to build his housing estate on protected countryside.
From my point of view, not only was the complaint driven by a property developer, but it was brought by the same developer who, in breach of all principles of good conduct, had tried to induce me to support his plan publicly as a councillor. Of course, I had rejected those inducements in the same way I hope any other councillor in my position would have done. I am still totally perplexed as to why Waverley would give the time of day to this type of complainant.
Lastly, the irony is that the developer only challenged my voting at the meeting where I voted for a version of the Neighbourhood Plan which displeased him and not my voting at the meeting six months earlier when I voted for the previous version of the Plan which he liked!