Concerns raised about planning committee appointment

Bexhill Town Hall
Bexhill Town Hall

A Conservative councillor has raised concerns about a potential conflict of interest on Rother’s new planning committee.

Speaking at the committee’s annual meeting on Wednesday (May 23), Cllr Sally-Ann Hart (Con, Eastern Rother) raised concerns about the nomination of Independent councillor Jonathan Vine-Hall as planning chairman due to his cabinet role on strategic planning.

Cllr Vine-Hall had been officially appointed to the role earlier the same evening, as part of the council’s new Rother Alliance administration – a coalition of the council’s Independent, Liberal Democrat, Labour and Green councillors.

Cllr Hart said: “I just wanted to say I am concerned because Cllr Vine-Hall is on cabinet for strategic planning and to be chairman of the planning committee.

“As a cabinet member you have an executive political role but chairman of the planning committee is a quasi-judicial role.

“When you have a system of cabinets and committees, it is very important to have those checks and balances. That is not going to happen properly.

“I just want to register that as a concern, to do with the reputation of the council.”

Despite Cllr Hart’s concerns,  director of service Dr Anthony Leonard told councillors there are no rules against such an appointment within the council’s constitution.

Cllr Vine-Hall was then elected unopposed as planning committee chairman. Cllr Susan Prochak (Lib Dem, Robertsbridge) was then elected as vice chairman.

Speaking after the meeting, council leader Doug Oliver said: “The appointment does not contravene the constitution and was discussed with Rother executive directors.

“In appointing members of cabinet the constitution was followed by proper process and procedures.

“I would add that Cllr Vine-Hall is an Independent councillor and is therefore apolitical in his role on cabinet and in all other capacities.

“There would have been a similar situation when former Conservative Cllr Patten was portfolio holder for finance on cabinet but also chairman of licensing and general purposes committee, which determine licensing applications.

“Should any conflict of decision making arise then this will be dealt with according to the appropriate procedure seeking guidance from executive directors.”

The meeting was held directly after the council’s first full member meeting following the local elections.  

As such councillors who do not sit on the committee were present in the chamber, but were unable to vote on the election of its chairman.

Meetings of the council’s audit and standards committee, overview and scrutiny committee and licensing committee were held in the same manner.