EXCLUSIVE: Parking abuse by councillor

Free parking
Free parking

A DISTRICT councillor was spotted using a council pass to park free of charge in the town before getting the train to London on private business.

Andrew Dunlop has said he will repay the money and has offered to be referred to the council’s own standards board.

[see below for Andrew Dunlop profile]

His statement followed a major investigation by the County Times after residents photographed Mr Dunlop parking his Jaguar for free while not on official council business.

Car parking remains a hugely controversial issue for Horsham district residents and workers - as the council has continued to hike the charges irrespective of a tidal wave of public opposition.

Incensed residents angered by the abuse of the system by an elected representative took pictures, date and time marked to prove the case.

When the County Times presented the residents’ evidence to Mr Dunlop this week he promptly issued a full and frank statement. He had already stopped using the car park following an approach by a council officer.

“Four weeks ago I started commuting daily to London to attend a new full time job. Generally I park and catch a train from Gatwick, but I have from time to time for other logistical reasons caught a train from Horsham.

“I can therefore confirm that on a limited number of occasions in recent weeks when I was not on Council business my car has been parked in an HDC car park adjacent to the Council’s Offices.

“When it was brought to my attention by a council officer that car passes should only be used exclusively on council business, I immediately refrained from using this car park. I apologise unreservedly for any inappropriate use of the pass. I will of course make good any loss that the Council has suffered as a result.

“I will ask Tom Crowley, the council’s chief executive, to refer me to the Standards Committee should this be felt appropriate.

“I have been asked by the County Times to clarify what allowances I have received since becoming a Councillor.

“I receive the basic members’ allowance and I am also entitled to claim 65p per mile mileage for travelling from my home in Partridge Green to meetings in Horsham and back.

“I can confirm that since my election in May 2011 I have never claimed - and have no intention of claiming - for any travel expenses.”

The County Times checked against minutes of meetings as part of our enquiry to see whether the times Mr Dunlop was parked in the council car park it coincided with his attendance on council business.

Mr Dunlop said: “With regard to my attendance at Committee Meetings, I am a member of the Scrutiny and Overview Committee, Budget Review Committee, the Business Improvement Working Group (of which I have been chairman), Development Control (South), the Traffic in Villages Working Group, and numerous other advisory groups.

“I have over the last 10 months - as I hope my Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Independent colleagues will confirm - been an assiduous attender of all these committees and an energetic participant in the work of the Council.

“On accepting a new full time role, I did indicate to the Leader of the Council and the Chairman of Scrutiny that it would be appropriate for me to step down as chairman of the Business Improvement Working Group, which I did at the earliest opportunity.

“I hope, once I have settled into the rhythm of my new job, to continue to play a full and active role in all aspects of the Council’s work.

“Finally I can confirm, contrary to what has been suggested to the County Times, that I have no intention of ever standing for election as a Member of Parliament.

“I am copying this e-mail for information to the Leader of the Council, the Leader of the Liberal Democrats and the Chief Executive of the Council.”

HDC leader Ray Dawe (Con, Chantry) said on Wednesday that Mr Dunlop continued to have his ‘total support as a councillor’.

HDC chief executive Tom Crowley added: “We were recently made aware of this allegation and we are investigating the reported incident.”

Who is Andrew Dunlop?

ANDREW Dunlop is seen as a key Tory politician not just on the local stage - but the national one as well.

He has been at the heart of central government for many years and his new job in London is believed to be key to the ambitions of Downing Street - but that is unconfirmed by Mr Dunlop and may be mere speculation.

Those who know him say he is a gifted communicator and political force and he is hugely respected by the Conservative political establishment.

When the current HDC leader Ray Dawe was elected in January - following the shock resignation of his predecessor Robert Nye before Christmas - Mr Dunlop was tipped as a possible deputy leader and certainly a cabinet member with perhaps responsibility for communication.

But his new role in London appeared to preclude him from taking on any such duties.

He has always had a broad range of interests - but not all of them without controversy. Mr Dunlop’s declaration in Horsham District Council’s Members’ Register of Interests, dated May 10 2011, states that he was a trustee of the Atlantic Bridge education and research charity.

Atlantic Bridge was subsequently dissolved by its trustees, on September 30 2011, following criticism from the Charity Commission.

The commission had demanded that its “current activities must cease immediately” because “the activities of the charity have not furthered any of its other charitable purposes in any way”.

Atlantic Bridge described its own aim as “to provide a forum for the generation of debate and ideas on effective ways to strengthen the ‘special relationship’ by promoting a close and strong relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States”.

It attracted scrutiny from the media last year because it was set up by former Secretary of State Liam Fox and run by his friend Adam Werritty.

Mr Dunlop’s declaration of interests also states that he was employed as a strategic communications consultant for Interel Consulting UK Ltd.

The business describes itself as “a leading strategic communications and government relations company with genuine international reach and an unrivalled record of delivery at home.”

A Interel press statement on its website said that on January 1 2012 Margaret Thatcher’s former Political Secretary, Sir Stephen Sherbourne, “will be succeeding Chairman, Andrew Dunlop, who founded the company as Politics International in 1991 and who is now leaving to pursue a portfolio career”.

Mr Dunlop is also chairman of Horsham’s Atlantis Amateur Swimming Club. He represents Cowfold, Shermanbury and West Grinstead and lives in Jolesfield, Partridge Green.