Technicalities to prevent councillor representing residents affected by Lancing IKEA plans at crunch meeting

Lee Cowen
Lee Cowen

A councillor for the Lancing ward where 600 homes and an IKEA could be built is set to be unable to speak on residents’ behalf when the plans are determined next week.

Mash Barn district councillor Lee Cowen has been advised not to attend Adur District Council’s planning meeting on Wednesday (July 18), where plans for New Monks Farm will be decided.

The Labour councillor decided he could not take his place on the committee as he had predetermined his opposition to the scheme.

He hoped instead to speak from the public gallery – as ward councillors normally can when plans affect their area – with a fellow Labour councillor substituting.

But when clearing the plan with the council’s legal department, he was shocked when the authority advised he should not attend.

Mr Cowen said he was ‘extremely upset’ at the situation. He added: “I’ve lived and breathed this application for 18 months, spoken up about it, used it in my campaign literature and started up a social media group. Now, I’m being prevented from speaking on a mere technicality.”

Mr Cowen said the council advised its standing orders set out that members must be ‘absent’ for the entire meeting if a substitute replaces them.

He said it was possible he could attend if a substitute did not sit in his place but this would leave the committee short on numbers. The council was also concerned his ‘mere presence’ could unduly influence the committee, he said.

Mr Cowen asked if he could resign from the committee but was told this was also not possible as full council – which meets the day after the planning meeting – would need to ratify his replacement.

As a concession, a written statement from Mr Cowen can be read at the meeting.

A total of four councillors will be able to address the committee, with names drawn in a ballot. Mr Cowen said this was a ‘kick in the teeth’, with Mash Barn residents set to be without representation on the night. The ward’s other councillor is unable to attend the meeting. Councillor Liz Hayward will also have the opportunity to have a written statement read out.

The council declined to comment about the case. Mr Cowen is seeking external advice.

The Localism Act 2011 sets out rules regarding councillors’ predetermination.

When deciding planning applications, councillors can be ‘predisposed’ for or against an application but can vote if they have an open mind.

Making a decision with a ‘predetermined’, closed mind, could call into question the ‘validity of a decision’, the act states.

Mr Cowen is not the only one disputing the meeting’s procedural process.

Lancing Parish Council has challenged Adur District Council after being told its representative was only entitled to a place in a ballot to speak with other organisations, rather than an automatic right to address the committee.

Clerk Helen Plant said the ‘usual protocol’ stated parish representatives could speak but procedures had been altered to factor in more speakers, given the contentious nature of the plans.

Mrs Plant said: “I have been advised by an officer of Adur District Council that the parish council is no longer classed as an organisation in its own right and is being grouped under societies/organisations/resident groups and will be entered into the ballot.

“Point 12 of the (council’s) protocol does state that the chairperson, in consultation with the committee, may waive any of the requirements of the protocol if satisfied on legal and professional advice that it is appropriate to do so in the circumstances, or in any event to change the order of speakers.

“There is no reference that the committee has been consulted with or what legal/professional advice has been given that disallows the parish council speaking in its own right. This is being challenged with the council.”