A CHRISTCHURCH councillor accused of trying to influence the outcome of a planning application for his home has been cleared of wrongdoing in an independent investigation.
The complaint against Cllr Peter Hall, a Conservative who represents Christchurch Town, alleged that he attempted to sway fellow councillors at a 2019 meeting of BCP Council’s planning committee, writes Josh Wright of the Local Democracy Reporting Service.
But an independent report said that he had correctly been acting in a personal role at the time and did not breach the code of conduct.
The application submitted by Cllr Hall sought permission for a new window and to increase the size of an existing one at his St Margaret’s Avenue home in Christchurch. It also tried to overturn a previous restriction that another window be of obscure glazing.
Council planning officer Kim Bowditch had recommended that it be refused due to concerns it would lead to a “substantial loss of privacy” for his neighbours.
However, it was narrowly approved when it was considered at a meeting of the committee in June 2019.
Although he is a member of the committee, Cllr Hall did not take part for his application and instead made a statement in support before he left the meeting.
But during the discussion a note was passed to a council lawyer by his supporter saying a partial approval would be accepted. This was read out in breach of the rules and a council officer then told the committee to “disregard” its content.
It was later ruled that Cllr Hall had not been involved in writing the note. But following the meeting, a formal complaint was lodged against his conduct.
It alleged he had:
- Tried to use his position to influence the planning officer,
- Tried to persuade the committee to go against the initial application, implying he had been misled,
- Not correctly left the meeting and had been involved in the passing of the note,
- And attempted to set a precedent by asking for the previous planning condition to be removed.
The complaint was initially considered by the council’s standards committee which requested an independent investigation, led by Milton Keynes Council legal officer Janet Kealey.
Her report found there was no evidence to support the first and third claims and, as Cllr Hall had been acting in a personal capacity, he had not been subject to the council’s code of conduct at the time.
“Cllr Hall is as entitled to bring a planning application as any other individual, and to try as hard as he can to ensure that his application is successful,” the report concluded.
“There is therefore no question that he was entitled to submit a planning application and to speak as the applicant at the committee.”
Members of the standards committee will be asked to accept the findings of the report when they meet on Tuesday 12th January.