LITTLE Thurrock Blackshots councillor Joy Redsell was “glad and relieved” today after being exonerated by a council standards committee.
Last week, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) announced that they would not be bringing any charges over the alleged unauthorised removal of a framed photograph from Thurrock Council offices in 2007, stating that there was insufficient evidence to proceed.
And now the independent members of the council’s Standards Committee voted to clear Joy of any wrongdoing relating to planning matters, following her decision to refer herself for investigation after anonymous allegations made earlier this year.
Councillor Redsell said “after months of pressure and uncertainty, I’m relieved that this episode is finally over. I have been completely open and honest throughout the process, and I’m pleased that justice has finally been done. I do feel that I have been abused both personally and politically, and I am currently taking legal advice on this.
I’d like to thank everyone who has stood by me throughout this difficult time, including my colleagues and the many residents of my ward who have expressed their support.”
Following the announcement by the CPS, Councillor Redsell’s suspension from the Conservative group on Thurrock Council has now been lifted.
Commenting on the two decisions, Conservative leader Cllr Phil Anderson said “I am delighted to welcome Joy back into the Conservative group.
“It is clear to me that she has been the victim of a series of malicious accusations whose only purpose was to damage her personally and politically.
“Although Joy is the first to admit that with hindsight there are things she could have done differently, every investigation has concluded that no actual wrongdoing took place.
“I think that this episode proves two things. Thurrock residents can be confident that we take all allegations seriously and will ensure they are fully investigated and never ‘swept under the carpet’.
“Members of the Conservative group can be reassured that we will stand with them whatever they are accused of and will treat everyone as ‘innocent until proven guilty’.”
Essex Police has confirmed that a senior detective continues to review the evidence in respect of the alleged theft of a framed photograph of The Gull Lightship. Contrary to earlier reports, they have not submitted an appeal to the Crown Prosecution Service.
The Report in Full
1 Executive Summary
1.1 On 18 August 2011 the Assessment Sub-Committee of the Standards Committee of this authority considered a self referral from Cllr Joycelyn Redsell, (attached in Appendix A pages 1 – 42) concerning the alleged conduct of Cllr Joycelyn Redsell, (“Cllr Redsell”) a Member of Thurrock Borough Council and member of the Cleaner, Greener and Safer Overview and Scrutiny Committee and former Deputy Mayor and Mayor.
1.2 As stated in the report to the Local Assessment Sub Committee, (attached in Appendix A pages 1- 42) Cllr Redsell made a self referral that there had been persistent allegations regarding herself and an alleged inappropriate connection and meetings between herself and Industrial Chemicals Limited on planning matters. Additionally that there had been accusations of misconduct on her part as a result of her meeting with a John Isabel on 31 March 2011 at Mary Green Manor Hotel, Brentwood where she appeared to discuss planning matters without officers being present or reporting the meeting under the Planning Code of Conduct Whilst it is Cllr Redsell’s position that she has not breached the Members’ Code of Conduct in so far as these public accusations of misconduct continue and in the absence of any other party making a complaint to the Monitoring Officer / Standards Committee she feels that she has no option but to self refer herself to the Standards Committee by way of complaint in order to report on the public accusations she continues to face.
1.3 The Sub Committee was asked by Cllr Redsell to commence proceedings to, “fully, openly and robustly examine whether I have breached the Members’ Code of Conduct, or law in my dealings with matters relating to ICG Chemicals and / or by my actions on 31 March 2011.”
1.4 Cllr Redsell has not specified paragraphs of the Council’s Code of Conduct. However in the Local Assessment Sub-Committee’s decision dated 18 August 2011 the following paragraphs of the Code of Conduct were noted as potentially relevant to such a self referral:
Bringing their office or authority into disrepute while acting in their official capacity;
Using their position as a member improperly to confer or secure an advantage or disadvantage;
Disclosure of Confidential Information;
Failing to declare a personal and / or prejudicial interest;
Having a prejudicial interest and failing to act appropriately;
Failing to register an interest and / or declare a gift or hospitality.
1.5 The Assessment Sub Committee found the initial tests were met, in that Cllr Redsell:
Was a member of Thurrock Borough Council at the relevant time;
Was in office at the time of the alleged misconduct; and
The complaint(s), if proven would constitute a breach of the Code of Conduct;
1.6 The Assessment Sub Committee had reference to its Assessment Criteria and concluded that the complainant had submitted enough information to satisfy the Sub Committee that the complaint should be referred for investigation, that the subject matter was recent and was not too trivial to warrant further action and concluded that it was in the public interest that an investigation be undertaken.
1.7 In accordance with Section 57A (2) of the Local Government Act 2000, as amended, the Assessment Sub Committee of the Standards Committee has decided to refer the allegations to the Monitoring Officer for investigation as being in the public interest and within the criteria for local investigation (see Decision Notice in Appendix A pages 1 – 2)).
1.8 It is the conclusion of this report that Cllr Redsell has not failed to comply with the Thurrock Council’s Code of Conduct – save with the possible exception of the hospitality of a lunch at Mary Green Manor in March 2011 with a Mr John Isabel – that may or may not have reached the £25.00 threshold and was not declared by the member in the Register of Members’ Interests or the Register of Gifts and Hospital. But given that no certainty can be reached as to whether Cllr Redsell’s share of the approximate overall cost of £50.00 amounted to “at least £25.00, or that she knew the cost; and the guidance from Standards for England that the benefit of the doubt has to be given to the member in such circumstances, then on the balance of probabilities no breach can be established. Additionally there is the point that there was no relevant decision of the authority upon which such a personal interest could have impacted.
Given this prelimary finding, it is my view that this matter should be referred to Thurrock Council‘s Standards Committee for other action.
2 Cllr Redsell’s official details
Cllr Redsell was first elected to office on 10 June 2004 for the Little Thurrock & Blackshots ward for a term of 4 years and was re-elected for a second term of 4 years on 1 May 2008.
Cllr Redsell currently serves on the Cleaner, Greener and Safer Overview and Scrutiny Committee and has also served on Planning Committee from 2004 to 25 April 2011 together with being appointed to the HGV and LDF Working Groups in 2009 and 2010 respectively. Cllr Redsell served as Deputy Mayor for the year 2005/06 and as Mayor 2006/07.
Cllr Redsell gave a written undertaking to observe the Code of Conduct on 17 August 2007.
Cllr Redsell has received the following training on the Code of Conduct;
Attended session entitled, “Members Code of Conduct in May 2007
Attended 3-4 sessions on governance, overview of the previous (pre April 2010) Constitution and Codes of Conduct.
Attended sessions in April 2010 on the new Constitution.
Planning Training – general training by Council Officers in autumn 2007.
Planning Training – approx May 2008, on LDF processes.
Planning Training – specific training from the IDEA.
Planning Training – training on green belt issues and related planning issues January 2010.
Planning Committee Training in May 2010.
3. The evidence gathered
3.1 I have taken account of evidence from the following individuals:
Former Cllr St. Clair-Haslam
Bill Newman, Corporate Director of Sustainable Communities;
Andrew Millard, Head of Planning and Transportation;
Alan Carver, Director of ICG Limited;
Mr John Isabel, local businessman
David Bloom, Planning Officer (Enforcement)
Wendy Tuson, Business Improvement Technical Officer (Planning)
Cllr Ben Maney;
Cllr Joy Redsell;
3.2 I have also taken account of documentary evidence obtained from existing Council records including HGV and LDF Working Group Minutes, Planning Committee Minutes, CMIS software records and data, email and letter correspondence. Planning and Legal files, Entries in Members Declarations of Interest and Gift and Hospitality Registers, Public records on ICG Ltd and group, Mr Isabel’s recorded company directorships.
4. Summary of material facts / chronology
10 June 2004: Cllr Redsell first elected for Little Thurrock & Blackshots ward
2004 /11: Cllr Redsell appointed to Planning Committee
2005/06: Cllr Redsell served as Deputy Mayor
2006/07: Cllr Redsell served as Mayor
26 January 2007: Meeting between Thames Gateway Development Corporation (TTGDC) and Industrial Chemicals concerning unauthorised lorry park at West Thurrock Power Station site. This was not a meeting Thurrock Council officers were party to it appears that the use began in 2006 and that the meeting was called to establish the scope of the proposals to form a lorry park at the site.
30 April 2007: TTGDC Meeting with Mr Pooley, Industrial Chemical Group’s planning advisor to discuss the breach of planning control that had taken place on the West Thurrock Power Station site and to seek the submission of an application to regularise the use. Thurrock Council was present at this meeting as the Enforcement Authority. There was a pre-meeting between Nigel Hebden of TTGDC and Andy Millard of TBC and that TTGDC was the relevant planning authority, that the Council could consider enforcement action, that the then Mayor and Portfolio Holder had met the Carver brothers (directors of IC Ltd) suggesting that they apply for planning permission (no officer was present but there is no requirement to have authority present as the Council was not the planning authority)
28 June 2007: Letter received from TTGDC by the authority advising that 9 months previous to this letter the TTGDC had been advised of the construction of an unauthorised lorry park at the former West Thurrock Power Station site. The letter raises the issue that no planning permission has been applied for to the TTGDC, who would have jurisdiction in that matter but does not appear to lodge a formal complaint about the site but rather outlines what the TTGDC think the Council should consider in deciding whether to take enforcement action. The letter also states that the Council should come to a view on enforcement before the land becomes lawful over time (i.e. within 10 years)
17 August 2007: Cllr Redsell signs Members Code of Conduct (attached in Appendix A, page 43)
2008: Cllr Redsell appointed to HGV Working Group
17 March 2008: Cllr Redsell’s Notification by “Member of a Local Authority of Financial and other Interests – and following declarations” (attached in Appendix A, pages 44 – 68)
9 April 2008: Meeting / Minutes of HGV Working Group (attached in Appendix A, pages 69 – 112)
1 May 2008: Cllr Redsell re-elected for Little Thurrock & Blackshots ward
10 July 2008: Meeting / Minutes of HGV Working Group (attached in Appendix A, pages 69 -112)
4 September 2008: Meeting / Minutes of HGV Working Group (attached in Appendix A, pages 69 -112)
2 October 2008: Meeting / Minutes of HGV Working Group (attached in Appendix A, pages 69 – 112)
23 October 2008: Meeting / Minutes of HGV Working Group (attached in Appendix A, pages 69 -112) It is noted that this meeting of the working group, at which Cllr Redsell was present agreed, in the context of regularising the unauthorised use at West Thurrock that, “should the Council not be in receipt of a satisfactory response to this matter by 2 January, enforcement action would be taken”
4 December 2008: Meeting / Minutes of HGV Working Group (attached in Appendix A, pages 69 – 112)
February 2009: Final Report of HGV Parking Working Group Meeting / Minutes of HGV Working Group. This report confirms that, “ The HGV Parking Working Group was established to identify site specific locations within the Western and Eastern parts of the Borough (in addition to that site already identified in the LDF Preferred Options publication dated January 2008) suitable for the construction and making available of 24 hour truck stops in Thurrock, following a resolution from Council on 30 January 2008. It appears from this report that the HGV Working Group adopted a “three way approach to the issue.” To identify both temporary and permanent sites for secure HGV parking, Regulate the indiscriminate parking by HGVs and Effective enforcement of the regulations. It is noted that under recommendation 1.2 West Thurrock Works was rejected for allocation within the LDF Core Strategy submission as permanent parking. (attached in Appendix A, pages 69 – 112)
5 March 2009: Draft LDF Working Group Notes (attached in Appendix A, pages113 – 119)
22 June 2009: Draft LDF Working Group Notes (attached in Appendix A, pages 113 -119)
15 July 2009: 09/00237/UNAUSE (Titan Works site) This planning case was opened on the 15 July 2009 and concerned the alleged breach of planning control by lorries being parked in the south eastern corner of this site. This issue was raised by the TTGDC and it is noted that no complaints were received apparently from the public on this matter.
The Planning Department state that on investigation it was found that approximately 20% of the site was being used for lorry parking (sui generis use). It was also found that 2 caravans were stationed on the land and one was being used for overnight accommodation. This issue was added to this enforcement case.
Based on the facts of the case, and on the balance of probability, the Planning Department state that it was considered likely that the use of the land for additional lorry parking (sui generis use) had become lawful over time. This is based on the 10 year rule. Therefore the Council would be time barred from taking enforcement action.
Because the onus is on the landowner to prove a lawful use, the Council invited the landowners to either submit an application for a Lawful Development Certificate, for planning permission, or to cease the use of the site if they could not prove their case. No such application has been received.
However, Planning state together with the Council’s aerial photographs, a returned Planning Contravention Notice and conversations with the landowner’s agent, Mr Pooley, it was considered that on the balance of probability this land use had become lawful over time. However if enforcement action were considered, there is limited harm being caused from this use which would make enforcement action difficult to justify, although this case has not yet been closed.
With regard to the stationing of two caravans, they have been removed from the land. This has resolved this breach of planning control and has stopped the provision of overnight accommodation.
17 July 2010: Cllr Redsell’s Notification by “Member of a Local Authority of Financial and other Interests” (attached in Appendix A, pages 44 -68)
21 July 2009: Cllr Redsell’s Notification by Member of a Local Authority of Financial and other Interests (attached in Appendix A, pages 44 – 68)
15 December 2009: Cllr Redsell’s Notification by Member of a Local Authority of Financial and other Interests (attached in Appendix A, pages 44 – 68)
June 2010: Cllr Redsell appointed to LDF Working Group
5 August 2010: Enquiry received advising the Council that PAL (Parents Against Lorries) had been formed and asking whether there was any information about any enforcement action taken or complaints received about the West Thurrock Lorry Park issue. No other complaints or enquiries are recorded as having been received about the unauthorised lorry park TTGDC contacts.
August 2010: Petition received containing 1967 signatures. The pray to the petition reads: “We the undersigned wish to register our total opposition to the siting of a lorry park on the old West Thurrock Power Station due to the already high volume of traffic that both enters and leaves West Thurrock Industrial areas and in doing so the residential areas of West Thurrock, South Stifford and Purfleet. We are further concerned as to the already high accident rate along London Road which we believe will only be worsened if this development is allowed to go ahead”
September 2010: In the light of this petition a report was taken to the Planning Committee in September 2010 and the report sets out the issues and proposed options.
23 September 2010: The Planning Committee resolved to authorise the service of an Enforcement Notice which seeks to ensure the cessation of the unauthorised lorry parking at the West Thurrock site within 28 days. An appeal was lodged against this decision and has since been disposed of.
4 October 2010: (Titan Works) A separate issue was raised on the 4 October 2010 alleging that an office on the site was being used by the Thurrock Conservative Association. An enforcement case was opened, under reference 10/00299/UNAUSE.
It was found that a “porta-cabin” was being used to store office equipment for the Thurrock Conservative Association. It was not established that a material breach of planning control had occurred but the equipment was scheduled to be removed by the end of March 2011. It has not been confirmed that the use has ceased although written confirmation has been asked for. Again the enforcement case has not been closed as subject to confirmation. Planning indicate that this is a matter that needs a follow up for this issue to be closed.
14 October 2010: Statement submitted by former Councillor Mr Stuart St Clair-Haslam to Monitoring Officer concerning meeting with ICG Ltd in the early part of March 2009 (attached in Appendix A, pages 120 – 125)
31 March 2011: Meeting between Cllr Redsell and John Isabel at Mary Green Manor Hotel, Brentwood
18 August 2011: Self Referral Report & Decision Notice of Standards Committee Referral for Investigation (attached in Appendix A, pages 1 – 43)
6 September 2011: Directors Report – Mr John Robert Isabel (attached in Appendix A, pages 126 – 128)
5. Cllr Redsell’s additional submissions
The Cllr Redsell has responded to the draft report indicating her agreement with its draft contents but would like to add the following to points:
Cllr Redsell states that her meeting with Mr Isabel at the Brentwood Manor Hotel in March 2011 was a social meeting – she did not expect to be asked on any matters that would engage her capacity as a member of the authority. In regard to the meal and its cost she did not pay for the meal or see the bill and is not in a position to dispute the estimated cost of £50 provided by Mr Isabel – however she states she had a light lunch with sparking water and Mr Isabel had wine and a more substantial lunch, Therefore she would expect that any apportionment of the estimated cost would result in her share being less than 50% of the estimated cost.
Cllr Redsell also wishes to indicate that she has reported to Essex Police being followed by person(s) unknown after Planning Committees – that this caused her fear and alarm and this may be part of the covert filming of her meeting with Mr Isabel.
6. Reviewing as to whether there has been failure to comply with the Code of Conduct.
6.1 “Failing to register an interest and/or declare a relevant gift or hospitality”
The Code of Conduct requires a Member to register with the Monitoring Officer certain interests, listed in paragraph 8 (1) (a) of the Code within 28 days. (This paragraph may be found at Chapter 7, Ethical Governance, Part 3 of the Council’s Constitution).
Paragraph 8 (1) (a) is in fairly technical language and covers those interests that must be declared “up front” on the Member’s Register.
There is a further and wider category of personal interests defined in paragraph 8 (1) (b) that must be declared when the member is sitting on a decision making body, such as a Planning Committee, when the relevant decision may impact on that interest.
However with the formal Members’ Register of Interests, the type of matters that must be declared in advance may be summarised as follows:
Where the business of the Council relates to or is likely to relate to :-
Membership of certain bodies
Employment or business
Certain payments in relation to election of persons and duties
Certain beneficial interests in land/businesses in the authority’s area
Contracts for goods, services or works to the authority
Gifts or hospitality with a value of at least £25.00
Certain land holdings.
Mr Alan Carver and the ICG Group of companies and Register of Interests
To apply this requirement to Cllr Redsell’s self referral, Cllr Redsell in her witness statement, indicates that she has known Mr Alan Carver (of ICG Ltd) since 1988 / 1989 when she met him as a member of Orsett Golf Club where she worked as a Relief Club Steward.
Cllr Redsell states that she has had no involvement in Mr Carver’s business and neither has she received any gifts or hospitality from Mr Carver, his associates or his companies. She characterised her relationship with Mr Carver as “an acquaintance known of 30 years”.
This has been cross referenced with Mr Alan Carver, who confirms that he knew Cllr Redsell from his Orsett Golf Club days, and that he has only seen her on 3 occasions in the last 10 years,
“Given the number of my meetings and the period I have known Councillor Redsell I do not feel she could be defined as other than an “acquaintance”. Neither I or ICL have ever given Cllr Redsell any gifts or hospitality between the years 2004 – 2011” (attached in Appendix A pages 135 – 136)
There is nothing, upon checking Companies House to indicate that Cllr Redsell has any connections with the ICG Ltd group of companies that is required to be declared in the Members’ Register of Interest or at all (Companies 05654071 / 03886037 / 01248371).
There are no relevant declarations of gifts or hospitality from ICG Ltd / Group or Alan Carver to Cllr Redsell in the Register of Gifts and Hospitality. This is consistent with Cllr Redsell’s witness statement that she has received no such gifts or hospitality and is confirmed by Mr Alan Carver. There is no evidence from any other source that Cllr Redsell has membership of a ICG Ltd body, employment from that group of companies or any of the other interests requiring advance declaration under paragraph 8 (1) (a) of the Code of Conduct.
In the circumstances there is no evidence of a failure by Cllr Redsell to register an interest in respect of ICG Ltd in the Members’ Register of Interest or a failure to declare a gift or hospitality to her from that source.
Mr John Isabel and related companies and Register of Interests
Turning now to the other matter of concern, that of Cllr Redsell’s acquaintance / friendship with Mr John Isabel. In her witness statement, Cllr Redsell states she has known Mr Isabel for quite a few years.
Mr Isabel is more precise in his timeline stating,
“I have known Joy Redsell since she started working for Orsett Golf Club, possibly fifteen or so years ago”.
and goes on to state,
“initially, our relationship would have been categorised as an acquaintance, however, having known Joy for so many years, I have long regarded her as a friend”. (attached in Appendix A pages 129 – 134)
The status of ‘acquaintance’ or ‘friend’ can be of significance as to whether an interest has to be declared.
However, here we are dealing with “advance” declarations required to be entered in the Members’ Register within 28 days under paragraph 8 (1) (a).
In this context there is no evidence, and none has been produced, that Cllr Redsell had any such interest in connection with Mr Isabel or his companies that should have been declared under paragraph 8 (1) (a) of the Code.
Mr John Isabel and related companies and Gifts and Hospitality
There is however, the matter of the lunch at Mary Green Manor in March 2011, which Mr Isabel characterises as,
“a result of a long standing promise of at least a year, for me to take Joy out to lunch when convenient to us both.The meeting was essentially social although, as already recorded, I did show Joy an overall plan of an area of Thurrock that I have an interest in. As the land is in the Green Belt the likelihood of a planning application remains low.””
and goes on to state,
“Initially our relationship would have been categorised as an “acquaintance, however having known Joy for so many years I have long regarded her as a friend. The last time my company built in Thurrock was in 1986…No planning applications have been made in Thurrock since the 1980s. There was no “outcome” to the lunch I paid for the meal as Joy was my guest. I cannot recollect the total cost however it was probably about £50.00.” (attached in Appendix A pages 129 – 134)
Clearly it is not for Councillors to declare a gift or hospitality every time a friend or acquaintance takes them out socially – such a requirement would result in the absurd consequence of massive irrelevant lists which have no bearing on the work of the authority.
The relevant section of paragraph 8 (1) (a) may be quoted as follows:-
“8 (1) (a) you have a personal interest in any business of your authority where either, (c) it relates to, or is likely to affect – (iv) the interests of any person from whom you have received a gilt or hospitality with an estimated value of at least £25.00”
I take that this means that the gift or hospitality must have taken place when the member was acting in their official capacity or that the gift or hospitality might reasonably be viewed as relating to any business of the Council.
Had the Mary Green Manor meeting merely been a meeting of friends / acquaintances to catch up, the payment by Mr Isabel of approximately £50 for the joint lunch would be irrelevant to the Register of Interest and the Register of Gifts and Hospitality, but because Mr Isabel brought up the matter of a potential development area that would have engaged Cllr Redsell in her capacity as a Councillor, and require declaration of the gift and hospitality in both Registers if her share was at least £25.00.
I am not considering here the separate Planning Code of Conduct that can require members to report certain approaches by developers to officers – that will be considered later in this report (although undoubtedly, it must be a frequent occurrence that members up and down the country are approached at their surgeries or by phone by members of the public wishing sign posting or guidance on local planning procedures).
Here, depending on the precise value of the joint lunch, and the precise value of that figure which related to Cllr Redsell’s lunch, it may or may not trip over the £25.00 threshold. I have sought clarification on that from Mr Isabel, who has stated,
“I do not have a detailed record of the cost of the lunch; however it was paid for by me as the meeting was a personal arrangement. Councillor Redsell was my guest; she did not pay for any part of the lunch.” (attached in Appendix A pages 129 – 134)
Therefore to conclude, on the balance of probabilities and the weight of the available evidence, it cannot be said that Cllr Redsell has failed to declare any interest required to be notified to the Monitoring Officer, under paragraph 8 (1) (a), in the Register of Interest, or in the Register of Gifts and Hospitality – save with the possible exception of the hospitality of a lunch at Mary Green Manor that may or may not have reached the £25.00 threshold.
Cllr Redsell indicates that she was not aware of the overall cost of the lunch and Mr Isabel cannot supply a precise figure or apportion the relative cost between himself and Cllr Redsell, however given the surrounding circumstances, the official capacity of the Councillor being engaged by production of documents and the discussion of a development idea together with the location being a prestigious 5 star hotel caution would have suggested that the matter be declared to the Monitoring Officer. This echoes the views of Standards for England, although they also comment that the benefit of the doubt has to be given to the member where the evidence is inconclusive. Additionally even if there had been evidence that the threshold of hospitality had been reached there has been no relevant decision that such an interest could have impacted upon.
6.2 “Failing to declare a personal and/or prejudicial interest and/or having a prejudicial interest and failing to act appropriately”
As I have explained above, interests are divided into 2 categories.
(i) Those that have to be declared in the Register of Interests within 28 days and listed under paragraph 8 (1) (a) of the code and
(ii) Those that have to be declared when a member is acting in a official decision making capacity, such as sitting on a committee, and that decision may impact on a personal interest of theirs.
Under this second 8 (1) (b) category, the phrase “personal interest” has a wider meaning and can involve a consideration of the well being and/or financial impact on “family and friends”.
(For clarity, it should be noted that when a member sits on a decision making body, he/she should declare relevant personal and/or prejudicial interests arising from both categories, 8 (1) (a) and 8 (1) (b).
As we have seen, the weight of evidence suggests that Cllr Redsell has no interests under 8 (1) (a) save the inconclusive value of the lunch at Mary Green Manor.
Mr Isabel and his companies
However, turning to Mr Isabel and his companies, I requested a search of all planning decisions and enforcement matters for the complete period of Cllr Redsell’s term of office in planning matters – namely June 2004 – April 2011. The planning department has confirmed that during that period there have been no planning decisions or enforcements involving Mr John Isabel or his companies. Therefore, as there are no relevant decisions at all, it follows that there can be no failure by Cllr Redsell to declare a personal or prejudicial interest at any meeting of the HGV, LDF Working Groups, Planning Committee or Council in relation to a decision impacting on her ‘friend’ Mr Isabel. I note here that Cllr Redsell would characterise their relationship as “one of acquaintance” but again, this is not relevant in the absence of any decision of the authority to which her personal interest or otherwise could possibly attach to. (attached in Appendix A page 141)
Therefore in the context of Mr John Isabel and his companies, I must conclude there has been no such failure to declare an interest at a relevant meeting.
ICG Ltd / Mr Alan Carver
Turning to ICG Ltd / Mr Alan Carver, I will not rehearse the above explanation of personal interests, but turn to the relevant facts. It has already had been concluded that Cllr Redsell has no personal interest under the 8 (1) (a) categories to declare in relation to ICG Ltd and / or Mr Alan Carver.
Therefore, we must now turn to whether there has been any relevant official decision at a committee, or otherwise, when Cllr Redsell should have declared a personal interest under the wider categories of 8 (1) (b), which as noted capture the wider well being and/or financial interests of friends and family.
My starting point again was to ask the planning department whether there had been any relevant planning decisions/enforcements relating to the ICG Ltd group of companies or Mr Alan Carver between June 2004 and April 2011 – Cllr Redsell’s term of office in these matters. Their response again was that there had been none save the enforcement against West Thurrock Lorry Park in March 2011. (attached in Appendix A page 141)
This clearly simplifies matters somewhat considerably, because again, if there is no decision for a potential personal interest to attach to the interests listed under 8 (1) (b) become irrelevant.
However, to this response of the planning department, I feel obliged to add a consideration of Cllr Redsell’s presence in the HGV and LDF Working Groups that were reviewing HGV parking provision, the decision at full Council to adopt the LDF core strategy and the Planning Committee’s decision on enforcement against ICG Ltd’s unauthorised Lorry Park at West Thurrock in September 2010. The question here must be was there a decision at any of these bodies where Cllr Redsell should have declared a relevant personal interest.
I have noted from the HGV / LDF minutes and from former Cllr St. Clair-Haslam’s witness statement (attached in Appendix A pages 120 – 125) and his declaration at full Council on the LDF core strategy – that former Cllr St. Clair-Haslam was of the opinion that he had a personal and/or prejudicial interest because the Thurrock Conservative Association had the benefit of a “portacabin” at ICG Ltd Titan Works between 2007-2009.
This matter has been repeatedly checked with Standards for England – including their Legal Services’ division and their repeated advice has been that a donation or provision to a body such as Thurrock Conservative Association would not count as a personal interest for the individual councillors of that association. In other words, their reasoning is threefold: a donation or provision of a portacabin to TCA does not affect the well being of individual group members of authority who are distinct from TCA; nor is the donation to a specific individual; further there is no evidence that the donation or provision is tied to any particular outcome – even if it could affect their well being – which it does not.
Therefore, on the advice from Standards for England, the provision of a portacabin to TCA cannot amount to a relevant personal interest in the hands of Cllr Redsell. It should also be noted that a donation to a political association is not a matter for the authority’s Code of Conduct, but rather the Electoral Commission and again is not a relevant interest for individual members.
Turning to the question of whether there was any other personal interest under the wider 8 (1) (b) provisions that Cllr Redsell should have declared in relation to a relevant official decision involving ICG Ltd or Alan Carver. It would appear that she had known Mr Carver for a long time, the acquaintance commenced from her time as Club Steward at Orsett Golf Club, a public facing post requiring interaction with some hundreds of members. Particular significance may attach to Mr Carver’s statement that he has only seen Cllr Redsell about 3 times in the last 10 years. Also neither party have been to each others homes or met socially, that arguably is not the hall mark of ‘friendship’, but even so when we review the minutes of the HGV/LDF Working Group, it has to be noted that the working groups recommended against West Thurrock Lorry Park as suitable for permanent HGV provision. (attached in Appendix A pages 69 -119)
The HGV/LDF Working Group received repeated evidence from officers and the police as to concerns about the absence of interim provision for HGV lorry parking – despite this in 2008 the HGV Group indicated that West Thurrock Lorry Park should be given a finite period to respond or enforcement action commenced. This was not pursued due to the evidence and submission at later meetings. (attached in Appendix A pages 69 – 119)
Therefore given the limited nature of the HGV/LDF Working Groups’ terms of reference and their recommendation against West Thurrock Lorry Park for a permanent site and the absence of any evidence that Cllr Redsell had a declarable interest under 8 (1) (a) or 8 (1) (b), I have to concluded that there is no evidence on the balance of probabilities that there has been a breach of the Code. This conclusion would also hold for the Council meeting that decided on the draft LDF core strategy – because here it was not site specific, and the Planning Committee in September 2010 that decided on enforcement as there is insufficient evidence that Cllr Redsell is a “friend” of Mr Alan Carver as opposed to an “acquaintance” (although the fact of the earlier meetings could have usefully been declared at this juncture to demonstrate transparency). This is also consistent with how she came know Mr Alan Carver given the public/member facing role of a Club Steward.
6.3 “Using their position as a member improperly to confer or secure an advantage”
Much of the above reasoning and evidence also applies to this potential ground of the Code. On the HGV Working Group Cllr Redsell supported enforcement action against ICG Ltd in 2008 and recommended against them for permanent HGV provision. (attached in Appendix A pages 69 – 119)
Further, she voted in favour of enforcement against the site at Planning Committee in September 2010. There is no evidence to support this allegation – the reasons for the historic under enforcement against the West Thurrock Lorry Park have been well documented and publicly discussed elsewhere and it is clear from the HGV Working Group’s minutes that the Group moved from their 2008 position on possible enforcement on the evidenced recommendations from officers and the Police as to concerns about the risks associated with the lack of interim provision for HGV parking in the borough.
6.4“Disclosure of Confidential Information”
No evidence has been adduced or found that would engage this ground
6.5 “Bringing their office into disrepute”
There has been some criticism of this aspect of the Code with argument that this ground should always be tied to a more specific breach else where in the Code. So far in this report, the only potential breach identified is on the inconclusive and marginal possibility that Cllr Redsell failed to declare a lunch that may have cost £25.00 in March 2011 (but may have cost less). But this also requires me consider the apparent failure to report the meeting with Mr John Isabel in March 2011 to the Monitoring Officer / Planning Officers (as distinct from the separate requirement to declare the hospitality). It was this incident that perhaps informed Cllr Redsell’s decision not to put herself forward for the authority’s Planning Committee this year. This raises the question of whether an alleged breach of the Planning Code by failing to report the meeting can also form the grounds for a breach of the Members’ Code of Conduct.
The first step is to consider Paragraph 7 of the Planning Code
Part 3 (d) – Planning Code of Good Practice
7. Contact with Applicants, Developers and Objectors
7.1 Do refer those who approach you for planning, procedural or technical advice to officers.
7.2 Do report to the Planning Officer or Monitoring Officer any significant contact with the applicant and other parties, explaining the nature and purpose of the contacts and your involvement in them, and ensure that this is recorded on the planning file
7.3 Don’t agree to any formal meeting with applicants, developers or groups of objectors where you can avoid it.
7.4 Do speak to the Planning Officer where you feel that a formal meeting would be useful in clarifying the issues.
7.5 Don’t seek to arrange that meeting yourself but ask the Planning Officer to organise it. The Officer will then ensure that those present at the meeting are advised from the start that the discussions will not bind the authority to any particular course of action, that the meeting is properly recorded on the application file and the record of the meeting is disclosed when the application is considered by the Committee.
7.6 Do otherwise:
(a) follow the Rules on lobbying (see Paragraph 8 below)
(b) consider whether or not it would be prudent in the circumstances to make notes when contacted”
The evidence from Mr John Isabel was that the meeting in March 2011 at Mary Green Manor was primarily a long promised social meeting at which he took the opportunity to show some plans to Cllr Redsell about an idea he had for a development.
It will be noted that reporting requirement is found in paragraph 7.2 and that it requires members to “do report to the Planning Officer or Monitoring Officer any significant contact with the “applicant and other parties”.
This raises the question of whether Mr Isabel was an “applicant” or “other party” at that stage – there appears to have been no application extant at the time or since and also whether this in turn can it be called “significant contact.”
Paragraph 7 appears to encourage, no doubt quite correctly, that members are recommended to, “refer those who approach you for planning, procedural or technical advice to officers”. This must happen frequently to councillors who are on Planning Committees and even those who are not. Residents will inevitably turn to members for sign posting on planning matters and members will quite correctly point them in the direction of officers. Many of these residents will only be potential applicants merely seeking brief signposting of how to proceed and who to contact – are all such approaches to be reported to the Monitoring Officer / Planning Officers? Clearly not – because such contact cannot reasonably be characterised as “significant.”
Applying this to the meeting between Mr Isabel and Cllr Redsell at Mary Green Manor in March 2011 whilst technically Mr Isabel was not an “applicant” or “other party” to an existing planning application as appears to be envisaged by Paragraph 7.2 he states he was approaching Cllr Redsell for advice on an idea concerning a housing development within the Green Belt
This appears on the balance to be more that just mere “signposting” to the correct officer to contact and it would arguably have been within the spirit of Paragraph 7 to report this contact to the Monitoring Officer / Planning Officers even if only at an “idea stage” and would also be in line with the changes to declarations under the Planning Code recommended in the Collision Report. This is a position Cllr Redsell herself has accepted and it informed her actions in not to putting herself forward for the current Planning Committee.
For the sake of completeness it should be noted that paragraph 8 (3) of the Planning Code echoes the need of the Members’ Code to declare any hospitality of £25.00.
Therefore accepting, on the balance of the available evidence that this was a social meeting in an open and public place at which Mr Isabel took the opportunity to a discuss a planning idea which was not and has not become an actual application I still have to conclude it would have been within the spirit of the Planning Code to report this contact to the Monitoring Officer / Planning Officers because it was not mere signposting to officers but there is no evidence that this omission could be reasonably be said to have brought the member or the authority into disrepute. Key to this conclusion is the fact that the meeting took place in an open and public place.
Before I leave it the subject of the Planning Code, I have to turn to 2 earlier meetings between Cllr Redsell and Mr Carver, one was at Titan Works with 2 other members present in 2009 which I’m informed was called to discuss an impasse with West Thurrock Lorry Park planning application. No officer was present on this occasion.
However, I have noted that the Monitoring Officer has already addressed this in an exempt advice in the Enforcement Report – Update No2 dated the 10 March 2011,
“Some of these meetings between members and the councillors did not have officers present. However, given that the Council is not the Planning authority there was no requirement for members to have an officer present.
I agree with the advice of the Monitoring Officer and believe it confirms my interpretation that the reporting to the Monitoring Officer or Planning Officers needs to be read in the context of a meeting with applicant to your authority.
The second and earlier meeting between Mr Alan Carver and Cllr Redsell appears to have taken place in the Mayor’s Parlour in 2006/2007 when an officer was present, as confirmed by Andy Millard, Head of Planning who was requested to attend and provide an overview of the planning process – which again would have involved an application to the Thames Gateway Development Corporation. This may be the meeting referred to in the DC minutes of 27 April 2007
Therefore to conclude on this ground there is no evidence of a breach of the Planning Code as the meetings were not with an applicant to Thurrock Council because the Development Corporation was the decision making body. Consequently I cannot conclude there has been a breach of the Code of Conduct.
The views set out above were contained in the Draft Report which was sent by myself to Cllr Redsell for comment. The response received was given careful consideration in regard to the respective apportionment of the estimated lunch costs paid by Mr Isabel at the Mary Green Manor in March 2011 and the reports to Essex Police of being followed after Planning Committees.
My final conclusion remains on all the available evidence and the weight of that evidence that there has been no breach of the Code of Conduct by Cllr Redsell in relation to the self referred allegations.