New Forest council leader won't be referred to code of conduct over flouting environmental law as opposition calls for his resignation
DESPITE pleading guilty in court to flouting environmental law, New Forest District Council’s leader will not be referred to the council’s code of conduct.
The offence committed by Cllr Barry Rickman, which relates to the Rickman’s Scrapyard he owns with his brother Robert, is regarded as a “private matter”, a spokesperson for NFDC stressed.
Meanwhile, the council’s deputy, Cllr Edward Heron, has said he is standing by Cllr Rickman, who he said was an “honest, honourable and dedicated servant to the community of the New Forest” since he was first elected to the council 38 years ago.
Cllr Rickman (63), of Heron Close, Sway, pleaded guilty at Southampton Magistrates’ Court on Friday to a charge that he knowingly caused/permitted a person to operate a regulated waste operation facility that dealt with the deposit, treatment and or storage of waste, without authorisation of an environmental permit.
His older brother Robert (67), admitted a single matter of conducting/causing or knowingly permitting activity in contravention of an environmental permit in relation to the waste operation.
The charges for both men relate to a period between 17th November 2017 and 9th October 2020 at the scrapyard at Lower Mead End Road, Sway.
Clarifying his stance, Cllr Heron explained the land has been in the ownership of the Rickman family for generations and was used by Cllr Rickman’s late father as a vehicle repair and breakers yard, which was continued by Robert.
“On the passing of Barry’s mother, the ownership of the property was left to both Barry and Robert, but the business continued to be run by Robert, who also lives at the property. Barry has no direct involvement with the day-to-day running of the business,” Cllr Heron added.
Cllr Heron was aware Cllr Rickman was “co-operating fully” with the Environment Agency. Work to clear the site was being undertaken, he pointed out, adding: “Wrong was done, regulations were breached, and Barry admitted this at the first opportunity.
“As the judge recognised, he and his brother are now working to rectify the situation in accordance with the regulations.”
Cllr Heron stated: “Barry has continued to lead NFDC, supporting the community in its response to the Covid-19 pandemic, without allowing this personal matter to interfere with his dedicated service to the Forest’s residents, as he has done since he was first elected to the council 38 years ago.
“I am sorry that in the run-up to local elections this mainly personal matter, where fault has been admitted and restitution promised, has been made a political issue by some. As Barry has supported so many in the Forest when they have faced difficult times, so I support him now.”
This is in response to the Liberal Democrat opposition calling on Cllr Rickman to stand down as leader on the Conservative-controlled district council.
Cllr Jack Davies said: “How can the Conservatives say, with a straight face, that they want to protect the environment if they let their leader get away with this?
“Therefore, it is with deep regret that we call for Cllr Barry Rickman to resign as leader of the council so that people’s confidence in the council can be restored.”
A member of the district council obtaining a criminal record does not automatically mean they can face action in respect of their civic role under NFDC’s code of conduct.
It states members should not do things such as use their position improperly to their own or someone else's advantage or disadvantage, improperly use the council’s resources, bully anyone, intimidate anyone involved in a misconduct investigation or disclose confidential information.
Complaints are dealt with by the monitoring officer, but on its website NFDC warns the officer is “entitled” to dismiss such complaints if “the conduct you are complaining about happened in the councillor's private life, not when they were acting as a councillor”.
Cllr Rickman represents the Boldre and Sway ward on NFDC. As leader, he heads the authority’s ruling cabinet and is also chair of the human resources committee.
He was first elected to NFDC in 1983 and initially served for five years. He returned to the council in 1995 and has been a member ever since. He is also a member of the national park authority. Cllr Rickman is married with two grown-up children and is a self-employed photographer by trade.