A Maidenhead councilor discredited the council
A chief councilor will not face penalties for “undermining” public confidence in local planning decisions, a report has concluded.
Housing Opportunity Core Member Cllr Ross McWilliams (Con: Cox Green) will face no consequences despite “the contribution Royal Borough Council discredited” following a contentious planning meeting last November.
He and fellow Tories on Maidenhead’s Development Management Committee approved plans by developer CALA Homes to build 80 homes on open land known as Deerswood Meadow in Ray Mill Road East against recommendations for refusal from officers.
Advisor McWilliamswho later resigned from the panel, liked the nearly 50% supply of affordable housing despite fears of flooding and the impact on open space raised by planning officers and residents.
However, at the meeting he did not say he worked for a company called BECG, which does public relations for CALA Homes, nor did he say he had “spoken positively” about the social media app in the past.
Cllr McWilliams was an account manager at BECG, which was listed on his register of interests on the council’s website. He now works at BECG’s rival company, Grayling.
He claimed he had ‘no personal benefit’ from projects or clients and had not worked on any CALA Homes related projects or within the Royal Borough as he had a ‘contractual firewall’ which prevented him from doing so. He added that he should have declared his interests at the meeting in hindsight.
He also said he did not voice support for the scheme via social media, but expressed general support for affordable housing, but not the specific planning app.
In a leaked document seen by the Local Democracy Reporting Service, he revealed Oversight Officer Emma Duncan advised Cllr McWilliams via email that given his past comments on the scheme, it would be “wiser” to s ‘exclude, which he ignored.
Cllr John Baldwin (Lib Dem: Belmont), who decried Cllr McWilliams’ failure to declare his interest at the November meeting, and 19 residents filed a complaints code, alleging the Conservative councilor failed to disclose his interest, used his position inappropriately to benefit himself and others and discredit his role and the board.
Hearing Officer Richard Lingard found Cllr McWilliams to discredit his role and counsel, but cleared him of the other two counts.
At the hearing on August 17, Councilor McWilliams argued that it was “difficult” to conclude that he had discredited the council if he had been cleared of the other two counts. He also pointed out that the council’s constitution does not prevent him from making decisions on planning applications, despite being a cabinet member for affordable housing.
Mr Lingard’s report was presented to Councilors and an independent person serving on the Membership Standards Sub-Committee, where it was unanimously agreed that Cllr McWilliams’ actions had discredited his role and the Council.
However, the Conservative adviser will not face any sanction. The report stated: “Given that the other alleged violations in the complaint had been dismissed and that Cllr McWilliams’ actions were likely the result of his passion and enthusiasm for expanding the supply of affordable housing in the rounding (rather than intentional deception), it would not be appropriate to impose a penalty.
In a statement, Cllr McWilliams said he found it ‘strange’ that the subcommittee decided he had brought the council into disrepute despite acting in accordance with the law and council policy, but that he complied with the conclusions.
He also said he “deeply regrets” any resident losing faith in the planning process, especially if his actions had anything to do with it.
He said: “I am relieved that this conclusion has been reached after months of politically motivated social media abuse, savage conspiracy theories and threats.
“Indeed, some of the social media abuses appear to have been deliberately encouraged by some opposition councilors, while the leak of confidential reports to newspapers has been a new low for political discourse in our borough.
“For some, it’s seemingly impossible to understand that someone could disagree with them for genuine reasons.”