CODE : Disclosure and registration of interests
CODE - No action necessary
Grovesend and Waungron Community Council
The Ombudsman received a complaint that a Member (“the Member”) of Grovesend and Waungron Community Council (“the Community Council”) had breached the Code of Conduct. It was alleged that the Member had failed to declare a personal and prejudicial interest when considering a planning application for a housing development adjacent to their property. It was also alleged that, when work started on the housing development, the Member hindered lorries from entering the site and threatened the development contractor with a solicitor’s letter, saying she was acting on behalf of the Community Council.
The investigation considered the following paragraphs of the Code of Conduct:
6(1)(a) – Members must not conduct themselves in a manner which could reasonably be regarded as bringing their office or authority into disrepute.
7(a) – Members must not, in their official capacity or otherwise, use or attempt to use their position improperly to advantage or disadvantage themselves or any other person.
11 – Members must disclose the existence and nature of a personal interest before participating in any business of their authority to which it relates.
14 – Members must, unless they have obtained dispensation from their authority’s standards committee, withdraw from a meeting which is considering any business of their authority in which they have a prejudicial interest and not seek to influence a decision about that business
During the course of the investigation, information from the Community Council and the development contractor was considered and witnesses were interviewed.
The investigation found that when the planning application came before the Community Council as part of a consultation process the Member was advised incorrectly that she did not need to declare an interest. The Ombudsman found that as the Member lived adjacent to the housing development and ran a business from her property, it was likely that she had both a personal and prejudicial interest in the planning application, and, therefore, she may have breached paragraphs 11 and 14 of the Code of Conduct.
The investigation found that whilst the Member may have influenced other members at the meeting, the Community Council as a whole submitted its objections to the planning application. However, the planning application was ultimately agreed by the County Council, and the development went ahead. Therefore, the Member’s participation and the objection to the planning application from the Community Council did not cause a disadvantage to the applicant. The Ombudsman also considered that the evidence gathered during the investigation did not support the allegation that the Member had hindered lorries and threatened the contractor with a solicitor’s letter or suggested that the Member had used her position improperly or brought her office as a member or the Community Council into disrepute in breach of paragraphs 6(1)(a) or 7(a) of the Code of Conduct.
The Ombudsman determined that the incorrect advice provided some mitigation for the Member’s actions and, as the conduct did not affect the outcome of the planning application, it was unlikely a sanction would be imposed, and it was not in the public interest to pursue the matter. The Ombudsman therefore found that under Section 69(4)(b) of the Local Government Act 2000 no action needed to be taken in respect of the matters investigated.