The Labour Councillors on the Worthing Planning Committee are being called on to ‘stand aside’ after they have been accused of collusion and agreeing decisions behind closed doors, away from the formal planning committee process.
Evidence submitted to the Borough Council’s Monitoring Officer (Wednesday 22nd March) has demonstrated that on at least three occasions in October 2022, February and March 2023; just 48 hours ahead of the main committee meeting that Councillors Cllr J Dean, Cllr E Taylor, Cllr A Whight, Cllr H Silman, Cllr S Theodoridi and Cllr J Turley have met in private behind closed doors with no council officers present or minutes taken to demonstrate what they have discussed or agreed.
Worthing Conservatives have secured this evidence and have submitted it to the Monitoring Officer for formal investigation.
National guidance for Probity in Planning published by the Local Government Association sets out very clear advice in that its states:
Predisposition - A Councillor will always be judged against an objective test of whether the reasonable onlooker, with knowledge of the relevant facts, would consider that the Councillor was biased.
Impartiality and avoiding bias - Planning issues must be assessed fairly and on their planning merits, even when there is a predisposition in favour of one side of the argument or the other. Avoiding predetermination and the impression of it is essential. The decision making process must be seen to be fair and impartial from the perspective of an external observer.
Cllr Kevin Jenkins, Leader of the Conservative group on Worthing Borough Council said: ‘This is totally unbelievable, I’ve never heard of a sub-group to be formed in this way, it is clearly politically motivated, as they have excluded Councillors from other political groups. There can be very little doubt that this was to agree a way forward for each application and present a united decision making to the public as they have the majority on the committee and can railroad it whichever way they choose. This is a total abuse of the planning process and politically motivated in every way possible.’
The Councillors are also accused of contravening 6 of the 7 Nolan Principles of Public Life. These set out standards that Councillors( and others) should follow when holding public office; the Councillors have been accused amongst others of breaching:
● Holders of public office must act and take decisions impartially, fairly and on merit, using the best evidence and without discrimination or bias.
● Holders of public office are accountable to the public for their decisions and actions and must submit themselves to the scrutiny necessary to ensure this.
● Holders of public office should act and take decisions in an open and transparent manner. Information should not be withheld from the public unless there are clear and lawful reasons for so doing.
Cllr Jenkins said, ‘The Worthing planning process is in tatters, these Councillors all now need to stand aside and allow an investigation to be held into their behaviours. How can any reasonable member of the public, whether an applicant for a planning permission, a resident speaking against a plan or just a member of the general public, have confidence in a single word these Councillors say. They have rigged the planning process.’
Some key planning decisions have been made since May 2022 and the Worthing Conservatives are now urging any person whose application was refused or officers recommendations overturned to review the decision and consider an appeal or complain to the Ombudsman.
Cllr Jenkins said, ‘We have extended our complaint to the Leader of the Council, Cllr R Cooper, as leader of this Labour group. No reasonable person can believe that she can be so unsighted on these activities, and as such she has failed to show Leadership as set out and required in the Nolan Principles, she should have intervened, but failed to do so’.