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STANDARDS COMMITTEE

 

Minutes of a meeting held on 19th June, 2014.

 

Present: Mr. A. G. Hallett (Chairman); Mr. A.J. Lane (Vice-Chairman); Mr. D. Carsley, Mrs. M.J. Pearce and Town Councillor M. Cuddy.

 

Also present: Community Councillor W. Bellin and Mr. J. Parkin and Mr. Pritchard (Investigating Officers from the Office of the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales).

 

 

97        APOLOGIES FOR ABSENCE –

 

These were received from Mr. J.F. Baker and Councillors C.P. Franks, Mrs. M. Kelly Owen and Mrs. A.J. Moore.

 

           

98        DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST –

 

No declarations were received.

 

 

99        ALLEGATIONS OF FAILURE TO OBSERVE THE MEMBERS’ CODE OF CONDUCT MADE AGAINST COMMUNITY COUNCILLOR WYNFORD BELLIN OF COLWINSTON COMMUNITY COUNCIL (MO) –

 

The Chairman introduced all present. 

 

A copy of the Procedure for Dealing with Allegations Made Against Councillors and Referred to the Standards Committee had been distributed to all parties with the Agenda for the meeting.

 

A meeting of the Standards Committee on 11th April 2014 had considered a report prepared by the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales in respect of allegations against Community Councillor W. Bellin, a Member of Colwinston Community Council, and the Committee had considered that report in order to make an initial determination as to whether Community Councillor Bellin had failed, or may have failed, to comply with that Community Council’s Code of Conduct. 

 

The allegations relating to Councillor Bellin were as follows:

  • Contrary to paragraph 7(a) of the Colwinston Community Council’s Members’ Code of Conduct, and having a personal interest, he used or attempted to use his position as a Colwinston Community Councillor improperly to confer or secure for himself an advantage by contributing to discussions at the Colwinston Community Council meeting of 21st August 2012, at which Members took decisions aimed at rendering future planning applications on the site known as Land to the South of Hen Cartref, Colwinston, less likely to succeed.
  • Contrary to paragraph 11(1) of the Colwinston Community Council’s Members’ Code of Conduct he failed to disclose a personal interest at the meetings of the Colwinston Community Council on 21st August 2012 and 12th April 2013 in respect of the planning matter relating to the Land to the South of Hen Cartref, Colwinston.
  • Contrary to paragraph 14(1)(a) of the Colwinston Community Council’s Members’ Code of Conduct he failed to withdraw from the Colwinston Community Council meetings of 21st August 2012 and 12th April 2013 when the planning matter relating to Land to the South of Hen Cartref, Colwinston, was being considered by the Colwinston Community Council when having a prejudicial interest in the matter.
  • Contrary to paragraph 14(1)(c) of the Colwinston Community Council’s Members’ Code of Conduct he sought to influence a decision about the planning matter relating to Land to the South of Hen Cartref, Colwinston, at the Community Council’s meetings on 21st August 2012 and 12th April 2013 when having a prejudicial interest in the matter. 

It was the conclusion of the Ombudsman that Councillor Bellin had breached the following parts of the Code:

 

-               7(a) -   by contributing to discussions at the Community Council meeting of 21st August 2012, at which Members took decisions aimed at rendering future planning applications on the site known as Land to the South of Hen Cartref, Colwinston ('the Site') less likely to succeed, in the context of a personal interest

-               11(1) - by failing to disclose a personal interest on 21st August 2012 Community Council meeting and at the meeting of 12th April 2013

-               14(1)(a) – by failing to withdraw from the Community Council meetings of 21st August 2012 and 12th April 2013

-               14(1)(c) – by seeking to influence a decision in having a prejudicial interest at the 21st August 2012 and 12th April 2013 Community Council meetings.

 

Having considered the report of the Ombudsman, it was the decision of the Standards Committee on 11th April 2014:

 

(1)       That Community Councillor A be given the opportunity to make representations at a future meeting of the Standards Committee, either orally or in writing, in respect of the findings of the investigation and any complaint that he had failed, or may have failed, to comply with the Community Council’s Members’ Code of Conduct.

 

(2)       That the Acting Public Services Ombudsman for Wales’ Investigation Officer be requested to attend the Standards Committee in line with Regulations 8(3A) and 8(3C) of the Local Government Investigations (Functions of Monitoring Officers and Standards Committees) (Wales) Regulations 2001.

 

Attached at Appendix A to the report before Committee was a copy of the Acting Ombudsman’s Investigation Report in respect of the complaints against Councillor Bellin. 

 

Committee were advised that Councillor Bellin had agreed with the findings that he had breached the Code of Conduct, but questioned the warning that he might do so again.

 

Mr. Parkin was asked to introduce his Investigation Report and advised:

 

-               the Investigation report at Appendix A was self-explanatory and referred to the location of Councillor Bellin’s home in relation to the Site

-               Councillor Bellin had responded to the planning application in a negative way

-               by taking part in discussions at meetings of the Community Council, Councillor Bellin had sought to influence the decision of the Community Council.

 

Mr. Parkin had considered that Councillor Bellin had been poorly advised by the Chairman of the Community Council that he did not have a personal interest.  However, it was the view of Mr. Parkin that Councillor Bellin had recently signed the Declaration of Acceptance of Office, which included an undertaking to observe the Code.  Furthermore, Councillor Bellin had undergone training on the Code of Conduct and was an experienced Member.

 

It was Mr. Parkin’s view that Councillor Bellin had not fully appreciated the depth of the breaches despite the investigation.  Mr. Parkin was concerned that Councillor Bellin might not act differently if a similar matter presented itself again. 

 

Councillor Bellin responded that he was on the Vale of Glamorgan Council’s register of people interested in the LDP and therefore received details of many planning applications from the Council. 

 

As a person living in the vicinity of the Site, Councillor Bellin had been consulted upon twice – as a person living nearby and also as a person interested in the LDP. 

 

The reason Councillor Bellin had not declared an interest at the meetings of the Community Council was because the Chairman of the Council had advised him that he did not have a personal interest in the planning application before the Council.  Councillor Bellin added that he recognised that it was his responsibility to declare an interest when appropriate.  He acknowledged that there was no excuse for breaking the Code of Conduct. 

 

During their interview, Councillor Bellin advised that Mr. Parkin had clarified his mind with regard to his interest in the footpath. 

 

Councillor Bellin acknowledged that his presence at the meetings could have influenced the decision of the Council.  As such, he was 'guilty as charged' and pleaded mitigation for his actions.

 

Councillor Bellin advised that, during the interview, Mr. Parkin had taken him through the logical sequence of events that had stretched back over many years.

 

With regard to the footpath, Councillor Bellin knew how well-used it was – by ramblers, school children, etc.  He used the footpath himself, and this should have been to the forefront of his mind.

 

Additionally, it was late August.  The Clerk to the Council was to be away.  Things had been brought to a head by the planning applications.

 

Mr. Parkin in response stated that he had no further questions.

 

Mr. Lane noted that some letters written by Councillor Bellin to the Vale of Glamorgan Council had been as an individual and others as a Community Councillor. 

 

Councillor Bellin advised that he had written as an individual.  It was his view that what a neighbour wanted to do would not affect him personally. 

 

The Ombudsman investigation had brought it home to Councillor Bellin that his wellbeing could have been affected by the decisions of the Community Council and he appreciated now that he did have an interest, if not a prejudicial one.  Furthermore, with regard to the footpath, this was an amenity that he benefitted from.  Mr. Parkin had pointed out to him that if he used the footpath then he would have a prejudicial interest in matters affecting the footpath.  He believed that he had gone along with the wishes of the members of the public in this matter.

 

Mrs. Pearce noted that it was only as a result of the investigation of the Ombudsman that Councillor Bellin had realised the difference in his roles as a Community Councillor and as an individual and enquired if Councillor Bellin had ever received training on Code of Conduct matters. 

 

Councillor Bellin replied that yes, he had received training.  At the meeting it was uppermost in his mind that he did not have a financial interest in the matters being considered.

 

Councillor Bellin had received training as a local governor and also had attended courses arranged for Community Councillors.  He had not attended a course specifically on the Code of Conduct although it was Councillor Bellin’s  belief that the requirements of the Code of Conduct were clear.

 

Mr. Carsley asked Councillor Bellin if he had considered declaring an interest at the meetings of the Community Council and was advised that no, Councillor Bellin had intended seeking guidance from the Chairman of the Council.

 

The Chairman asked if it was in the back of Councillor Bellin’s mind to declare an interest at the meetings and Councillor Bellin replied that it was a 'fuzzy' boundary. 

 

Councillor Cuddy mentioned that Councillor Bellin had a reasonable perception of the public interest test i.e. a personal interest is a prejudicial interest if a member of the public, with knowledge of the relevant facts, would reasonably think that the interest was so significant that it is likely to prejudice a Member’s judgement of the public interest'.  The issues were often 'fuzzy' but Councillors should always err on the side of caution.

 

Councillor Bellin replied that this was why he 'pleaded guilty as charged' and accepted the Ombudsman’s findings in their entirety.

 

In referring to the discussions at the Community Council on 21st August 2012 and 12th April 2013, Mrs. Pearce enquired if it was Councillor Bellin’s intention to make it as difficult as possible for anyone to develop the Site. 

 

Councillor Bellin replied that it was August and that if anything was going to happen it had to be done straight away. 

 

Looking at the map, he could see three things:

 

-               He expected the house to be built with conditions regarding the access

-               He did not see much point in the Tree Preservation Order as the Sycamore tree was not indigenous

-               Councillor Bellin assumed that there would be some compromise i.e. a thinner, larger house instead of the original application.

 

Councillor Bellin had never expected a cut and dried decision. 

 

Mrs. Pearce noted that if the footpath and stile had been in existence for many years, this could not have been an urgent matter.  Councillor Bellin replied that the footpath and stile had been looked at for many years – as long as he had lived in the area.

 

The tree issue had also been progressing for a long time.  Matters came to a head in late August. 

 

The Chairman referred to Mr. Parkin’s concerns that Councillor Bellin had not fully appreciated the breadth of the breaches of the Code of Conduct and Mr. Parkin’s concerns that Councillor Bellin might not act differently if a similar matter presented itself again.

 

Councillor Bellin replied that he had supplied the Standards Committee with copies of a minute of the Colwinston Community Council held on 8th April 2014 at which Councillor Bellin had withdrawn from the meeting in view of an interest that he had with an item that was being considered at the meeting.  This item concerned the development by Redrow.  Councillor Bellin rejoined the meeting after consideration of this item and was present when a further item concerning the Local Development Plan was considered. 

 

Councillor Bellin had provided photographs of the sewerage pipe to the meeting of the Community Council. 

 

The Chairman asked Councillor Bellin if he believed that he did not have a prejudicial interest in this matter and Councillor Bellin replied that the answer to this question was tricky.  The Community Councillors had wanted him to be present at the meeting during consideration of this item.  He had agreed to this but had withdrawn from discussions on that item.  This had not been included in the minutes of the meeting.

 

Councillor Bellin was asked if, having shown the photographs, did he not feel that he should then withdraw from the meeting and Councillor Bellin stated that he did not withdraw from the meeting – he withdrew from the discussions that took place.

 

In referring to page 6 of the minutes of the Community Council held on 8th April 2014, in particular the item headed “Local Development Planâ€, the Chairman asked Councillor Bellin to confirm that he was present at the meeting during consideration of this item. 

 

Councillor Bellin confirmed that he was present whilst this item was considered.

 

There were no further questions.

 

Prior to all parties vacating the room, the Monitoring Officer advised that she would remain with the Members of the Standards Committee to advise on any procedural matters.

 

All parties vacated the room whilst the Standards Committee deliberated on the representations received.

 

Having arrived at a decision, all parties were invited to re-enter the room and were advised:

 

(1)       That the Monitoring Officer had not offered any legal advice whilst the Committee were deliberating in private.

 

(2)       That it was the decision of the Standards Committee that Councillor Bellin’s actions were indicative of breaches of the Code of Conduct for Members of Colwinston Community Council.

 

It was now incumbent upon the Standards Committee to determine whether Councillor Bellin had failed to comply with the Code.

 

Mr. Parkin was asked if he wished to make any further points but stated that he had nothing to add to the contents of his Investigation Report.

 

Councillor Bellin was asked if he had any comments and replied that he nothing to add.

 

There being no further questions, all parties vacated the room in order that the Committee could arrive at a decision.

 

Having arrived at a decision, all parties were invited to re-enter the room and were advised that it was the decision of the Standards Committee that all of the allegations made against Community Councillor Bellin had been proven to the satisfaction of the Committee. 

 

It was now necessary for the Committee to consider what action (if any) be taken against Councillor Bellin.

 

Mr. Parkin was asked if he had any comments to make and replied that his view was that it was a matter for the Committee to consider, and not the Ombudsman’s Office. 

 

Councillor Bellin was given an opportunity to make representations.

 

Councillor Bellin stated that he had missed out in his previous answers that The Windmills did not affect his property but otherwise he had nothing further to say.

 

There being no further statements or questions, all parties vacated the room in order that the Committee could arrive at its decision.

 

Having arrived at a decision, all parties were invited to re-enter the room whereupon they were advised that the Standards Committee had

 

RESOLVED –

 

(1)       T H A T, arising from the decision of the Committee, and contrary to paragraph 7(a) of the Colwinston Community Council’s Members Code of Conduct, and having a personal interest, Community Councillor W. Bellin used or attempted to use his position as a Colwinston Community Councillor improperly to confer or secure for himself an advantage by contributing to discussions at the Colwinston Community Council meeting of 21st August 2012, at which Members took decisions aimed at rendering future planning applications on the site known as Land to the South of Hen Cartref, Colwinston, less likely to succeed, Community Councillor W. Bellin be censured for his actions.

 

(2)       T H A T, arising from the decision of the Standards Committee, and contrary to paragraph 11(1) of the Colwinston Community Council’s Members’ Code of Conduct, Community Councillor W. Bellin failed to disclose a personal interest at the meetings of the Colwinston Community Council on 21st August 2012 and 12th April 2013 in respect of the planning matter relating to the Land to the South of Hen Cartref, Colwinston, Community Councillor Bellin be censured for his actions.

 

(3)       T H A T, arising from the decision of the Standards Committee, and contrary to paragraph 14(1)(a) of the Colwinston Community Council’s Members’ Code of Conduct, Community Councillor Bellin failed to withdraw from the Colwinston Community Council meeting of 21st August 2012 and 12th April 2013 when the planning matter relating to Land to the South of Hen Cartref, Colwinston, was being considered by the Colwinston Community Council when having a prejudicial interest in the matter, Community Councillor W. Bellin be censured for his actions.

 

(4)       T H A T, arising from the decision of the Standards Committee, and contrary to paragraph 14(1)(c) of the Colwinston Community Council’s Members’ Code of Conduct, Community Councillor W. Bellin sought to influence a decision about the planning matter relating to Land to the South of Hen Cartref, Colwinston, at the Community Council’s meetings on 21st August 2012 and 12th April 2013 when having a prejudicial interest in the matter, Community Councillor W. Bellin be censured for his actions.

 

(5)       T H A T Community Councillor W. Bellin be required to attend a training session regarding the Members’ Code of Conduct. 

 

(6)       T H A T Community Councillor W. Bellin be advised of his right to appeal against the Committee’s determination within a period of 21 days of his receiving notification, by giving notice in writing to:

 

            The Registrar

            Adjudication Panel for Wales

            Government Buildings

            Spa Road East

            Llandridnod Wells

            Powys

            LE1 5HA

 

and that the notice of appeal must specify:

 

-               the grounds for appeal, and

-               whether or not the person giving notice of appeal consents to the appeal being conducted by way of written representations.

 

(7)       T H A T, subject to an appeal (if any), the findings of the Standards Committee as detailed in paragraphs (1) to (5) above be publicised in accordance with the requirements of the Local Government Investigations (Functions of Monitoring Officers and Standards Committees) (Wales) Regulations 2001.

 

(8)       T H A T the Clerks to the Town / Community Councils within the Vale of Glamorgan be requested to remind their respective Councillors of the importance of their having received training in matters concerning the Members’ Code of Conduct and that the Monitoring Officer offers to provide such training.

 

Reasons for decisions

 

Consideration was given to the evidence and information contained within the report of the Ombudsman’s Investigation Report together with the representations made at the meeting. 

 

Resolution (1)

 

Evidence on behalf of the Ombudsman

 

(1)       The minute of the meeting of the Colwinston Community Council of 21st August 2012 which showed that Councillor Bellin was present and did not declare an interest whilst the planning application relating to Land to the South of Hen Cartref, Colwinston, was discussed, including the taking of measures to render future planning applications on the Site less likely to succeed.

 

(2)       The proximity of the application Site to Councillor Bellin’s home, the potential loss of view and because he had been consulted and had made a personal response to the Vale of Glamorgan Council’s Consultation, indicated that a member of the public would think that Councillor Bellin could not be objective about the matter.

 

(3)       Councillor Bellin had agreed to abide by the Members’ Code of Conduct. 

 

(4)       Councillor Bellin had attended a training course on being elected Community Councillor, the contents of which had included Code of Conduct matters.

 

Evidence on behalf of Community Councillor Bellin

 

(1)       Councillor Bellin had been advised by the Chairman of the Community Council that he did not have an interest.

 

(2)       Councillor Bellin did not acknowledge that, in hindsight, he had a personal interest in any planning application and did not consider that he had a personal interest.

 

(3)       Councillor Bellin did not dispute any of the facts concerning the events in question and the actions that he took.

 

 

Resolution (2)

 

Evidence on behalf of the Ombudsman

 

(1)       The minutes of the meetings of the Colwinston Community Council held on 21st August 2012 and 12th April 2013 which showed that Councillor Bellin was present and did not declare an interest whilst discussions ensued regarding a planning application relating to Land to the South of Hen Cartref, Colwinston, was discussed.

 

(2)       The proximity of the application Site to Councillor Bellin’s home and the potential loss of view that would indicate to a member of the public that Councillor Bellin could not be objective about this matter. 

 

(3)       Community Councillor Bellin did not dispute any of the facts concerning the events in question.

 

(4)       Councillor Bellin had attended a training course on being elected Councillor, the contents of which had included Code of Conduct matters.

 

(5)       Councillor Bellin had agreed to abide by the Code of Conduct.

 

Evidence on behalf of Councillor Bellin

 

(1)       Councillor Bellin had agreed with the findings of the Investigating Officer that he had breached the Code of Conduct in respect of personal interest and prejudicial interest.

 

(2)       Councillor Bellin had been advised by the Chair of the Community Council that he did not have an interest in the matter.

 

(3)       Councillor Bellin had demonstrated his awareness of the Members’ Code of Conduct by declaring an interest in an item at a meeting of the Colwinston Community Council held on 8th April 2014. 

 

 

Resolution (3)

Evidence on behalf of the Ombudsman

 

(1)       The minutes of the meetings of the Colwinston Community Council held on 21st August 2012 and 12th April 2013 which show that Councillor Bellin was present and did not declare an interest or withdraw whilst discussions ensued regarding a planning application relating to Land to the South of Hen Cartref, Colwinston, was discussed.

 

(2)       The proximity of the application Site to Councillor Bellin’s home and the potential loss of view would indicate that a member of the public would think that Councillor Bellin could not be objective about this matter. 

 

(3)       Councillor Bellin had agreed with the findings of the Investigating Officer that he had breached the Code of Conduct in this matter.

 

(4)       Councillor Bellin had attended a training course on being elected Councillor, the contents of which had included Code of Conduct matters.

 

(5)       Councillor Bellin had agreed to abide by the Code of Conduct.

 

Evidence on behalf of Councillor Bellin

 

(1)       Councillor Bellin had been advised by the Chair of the Community Council that he did not have an interest in this matter.

 

(2)       Councillor Bellin had demonstrated his awareness of the Members’ Code of Conduct by declaring an interest in an item at a meeting of the Colwinston Community Council held on 8th April 2014 and withdrawn. 

 

 

Resolution (4)

 

Evidence on behalf of the Ombudsman

 

(1)       The minutes of the meetings of Colwinston Community Council of 21st August 2012 and 12th April 2013 which showed that Councillor Bellin was present and did not declare an interest whilst the planning application relating to Land to the South of Hen Cartref, Colwinston, was discussed.

 

(2)       Evidence that Councillor Bellin contributed to the Community Council’s decision to write to the Vale of Glamorgan Council opposing the proposal.

 

Evidence on behalf of Councillor Bellin

 

(1)       Councillor Bellin’s home was opposite the proposal site but he did not consider that he would have been greatly affected if the application had been approved. 

 

(2)       Councillor Bellin had been advised by the Chairman of the Community Council that he did not have an interest.

 

 

Resolution (5)

 

It was the belief of the Standards Committee that Councillor Bellin’s understanding of his requirements under the Members’ Code of Conduct was deficient, and further training was required to address this.

 

Resolutions (6) and (7)

 

To comply with the provisions of the Local Government Investigations (Functions of Monitoring Officers and Standards Committees) (Wales) Regulations 2001.

 

Resolution (8)

 

To raise an awareness of the importance of the Members’ Code of Conduct with the Town / Community Councils within the Vale of Glamorgan.

 

 

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