Fleet News and Mail 23rd December 2011: Reshuffle after private meeting complaint
A SENIOR councillor has had to resign from his cabinet post after being asked to step down by the council leader. A snap reshuffle at Hart District Council has seen Fleet West representative Richard Appleton leave his role as head of planning and regulation following an announcement made on Monday. Council leader Ken Crookes confirmed that he felt the decision had become necessary following the revelation earlier this month that Cllt Appleton had met privately with landowners and a developer over prospective plans for a development of 4,000 homes near Winchfield.
The discovery of the meeting saw the chairman of Winchfield Parish Council, Andrew Renshaw, lodge a complaint over the matter with Hart’s chief executive Geoff Bonner. Cllr Crookes this week said Cllr Appleton had confirmed to him his attendance at the meeting.
A spokesman for the council confirmed Cllr Stephen Parker would be taking over the planning portfolio with immediate effect, with Hook representative Jonathan Glen assuming responsibility for Cllr Parker’s former role as the council’s chairman of environment.
In a statement announcing the decision, Cllr Crookes expressed his gratitude to his former cabinet colleague for all his efforts and contributions during his time in the role. He said “Councillor Richard Appleton is stepping down from the cabinet at my request. I would like to take this opportunity to thank him for all his hardwork, dedication and integrity in the role for the past three and a half years. During that time we have seen efficiency and effectiveness improvements in the development control function as well as significant progress in getting our draft LDF Core Strategy through its initial consultation.”
The decision to remove Cllr Appleton from his position was first announced at Hart’s full council meeting held on Thursday of last week. Speaking on Tuesday, Cllr Crookes said that he had felt it right that Cllr Appleton stand down from the Council’s cabinet. He said “It is very important in these matters, particularly planning matters, that we are completely transparent especially with members of the public. I thought it was inappropriate for the Cllr Appleton to have a meeting with land owners and developers without telling anyone or inviting a planning officer from Hart to accompany him.”
As well as having to leave his cabinet role, Cllr Appleton has also de-listed himself from the council’s Conservative group, and is now running as an unaligned representative. In a statement included in the minutes from last week’s council meeting, Cllr Appleton offered an explanation for this decision. He said: “When I first stood for election to this council a number of residents queried why I was standing for a political party. I always made in clear that if push came to shove, I would represent residents’ interests above those of a political party. Unfortunately I feel that this situation has arisen and so I am asking the chief executive to remove my name from the list of members of the Conservative group”.
Cllr Andrew Renshaw, chairman of Winchfield Parish Council, responded to the announcement by welcoming the district council’s decision. He said: “It is good that Hart’s political leaders have acted so swiftly. It was clearly wrong that the portfolio holder for planning should be having unofficial meetings with landowners and developers’ representatives to discuss the possibility of a new town at Winchfield, which is not part of Hart’s core strategy.”
Cllr Appleton was contacted by the News and Mail but stated that he did not wish to comment on the decision.
Fleet News and Mail 23rd December 2011 by Tim Tonkin