The leader of the DORSET council’s Lib Dem group, Cllr Nick Ireland, has defended allegations that he violated the council’s code of conduct.
He appeared at a County Hall panel hearing on Wednesday to respond to an allegation that his email to members of a planning committee, requesting the rejection of an application, should not have arrived. He has also posted articles on social media about the app.
The case concerns a planning application in October 2019 to make changes to a chalet building in Greenhill that was previously used by the RNLI and then by sea swimmers from Weymouth Bay until the Greenhill Chalet Trust took over possession of the building.
The request, for the demolition of parts of the previous structure and to make modifications to the building, was approved by the planning committee. This resulted in the lockdown of sea swimmers in April 2019 and to this day the building remains empty. The club had refused to sign what they claimed, at the time, to be an unreasonably short new contract.
The promise to find swimmers an alternative base did not materialize.
Dorset Council attorney Roger Greene said the case was unusual both because a complaint was made when the request was approved and because only two of the twenty people he wrote to from the committee responded – both claiming that they were not influenced by Cllr Ireland’s intervention.
Cllr Ireland said he did not attend the committee because he was abroad and decided the only way to make his point known was to email the other members.
Defending his position, he said there was nothing in the code of conduct to prevent pressure on his fellow advisers, although the code of conduct advised against it.
âIf I had been able to attend the planning committee, I would have informed the president of my predetermination at the appropriate time and asked to speak against the candidacy, then withdraw from the room,â he saidâ¦ âThis should be noted that the planning committee, including myself, had received numerous other lobbying emails – including, I believe, from the person who complained about me, asking us to go either way or in the other.
He later said at the hearing, âDo I regret it? No, I would do the same again.
Cllr Ireland admitted that as a swimmer he was very attached to the decision to close the swimming hut at sea where people could leave their clothes while swimming but did not use it himself. He said his comments were made on behalf of his constituents in his neighborhood of Owermoigne who used the hut until it closed two years ago.
âThe facility that had remained locked and unused – the Greenhill Chalet Trust kept it empty, a two-fingered metaphor for those who swim past it on a daily basis. âSo do I regret having supported my constituents and my fellow swimmers? – not an iota, âsaid Cllr Ireland.
The panel decided that Cllr Ireland had violated the code of conduct and should apologize at the next planning meeting.
Panel chair Cllr Matt Hall said that while advisers could have opinions, Cllrs Ireland’s actions could have led people to question the integrity of the planning process.