LETTER: Questions over ‘dispensation’

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The council meeting on June 24 was a rather unusual event in the recent history of Horsham District Council when 15 Conservative and four Liberal Democrat councillors honourably supported a Motion to move the main strategic housing site in the local plan from North Horsham to Southwater where it was before Cllr Vickers took over the planning portfolio in May 2013.

The Motion was defeated by 24 votes to 19 but the Leader Cllr Dawe got a very strong message that he had a very different council from the last one.

From past history, many doubt whether he can bring together the north and the south in a way that is in all our interests.

But it was also unusual in that before consideration of the special Motion, Cllr Vickers made a statement which came under ‘Conflict of interest’. She said that she had received a ‘dispensation’ from the council solicitor. But nothing else – we were left in the dark.

I was down to ask two questions and in the highly controlled arena of HDC meetings you aren’t allowed to deviate from the texts you will have submitted beforehand.

I had the temerity to address the Chairman and ask if she could explain to the public why Cllr Vickers had made the statement regarding a ‘dispensation’. Councillors didn’t ask for clarification so I assumed they must have known what it meant. My question was ignored.

The reality of the matter is that Cllr Vickers’ declared interest is because her Grade II cottage on Two Mile Ash Road is surrounded on all three sides by land controlled by Berkeley Homes where they were intended to place the 2,750 homes development. This map is on the council’s website.

The development would change her view of the dairy. The same situation also applies to Cllr Ian Howard’s house on Worthing Road.

I find all this rather worrying especially as the cabinet member for planning and chairman of her own Planning and Policy Advisory Group (PPAG) she would be in a strong position to influence the move of this strategic site away from her back garden. No wonder PPAG was held in secret.

Apparently this is not a conflict of interest in legal terms but it must be a very fine dividing line. What about morality, objectivity, and transparency and how an ordinary member of the public might view this?

These are issues in the Councillors’ Code of Conduct. Perhaps HDC’s law officer can explain in layman’s terms what it was all about and why Mrs Vickers had to make her statement. A Judge might well be interested at the Judicial Review.

Dr GEOFFREY RICHARDSON

Tennyson Close, Horsham

A spokesperson for Horsham District Council said: ‘‘The property interests of Councillor Vickers have been declared previously in the Council’s Register of Members’ Interests. The Council Solicitor advised that, in his opinion, no further interest has arisen.

‘‘However, it is in the interests of everyone living in the Horsham area that their elected representatives should be enabled to take a full part in important decisions and, for this reason, a dispensation was granted to put the matter beyond doubt.”

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