Last summer, all three Pavilion board members sat on the Rushmoor planning committee and helped push through a planning application on behalf of KPI (a St Modwen front company), for redevelopment of Farnborough town centre, in essence trashing the town centre. Pavilion were to be a direct beneficiary of this application.
Not a single Pavilion board member declared that they had a vested interest, not a single Pavilion board member left the room.
After nine months of investigation, the Standards Board for England found all three councillors guilty of serious misconduct, as there was a clear conflict of interest.
Several years ago, KPI (a Kuwaiti-funded St Modwen front company) bought Farnborough town centre. They have since, with the collusion of Rushmoor Borough Council, laid waste to the town centre. Many good businesses have been driven out of town. The town now resembles a ghost town. The few remaining retailers and small businesses are eking out a precarious economic existence.
KPI submitted plans to the Council to demolish the northern half of the town centre, and replace with a large superstore, a small estate of social housing to be demolished to provide a car park for the superstore.
The Council were only too happy to ignore objections and rubber stamp what was put before them. But what they did not count on was a series of successful legal challenges from local residents, for members of the planning committee to be put before the Standards Board for England for conflict of interest (and to be found guilty), and now the latest blow to their unwanted schemes, referral to a Public Inquiry by the Secretary of State.
Rushmoor councillors, Sue Dibble, Charlie Fraser-Flemming and Roger Kimber, were all members of the Rushmoor planning committee that considered the application from KPI to redevelop Farnborough town centre. All three, also happened to sit on the board of Pavilion Housing Association.
The application put before the planning committee involved demolition of social housing to provide a car park for the superstore. Pavilion Housing Association was the housing association that owned the land on which the social housing stood.
All parties agreed, that the housing association tenants should be kicked out of their homes, the land sold to KPI and the council to grant planning permission.
As the Standards Board found, not only did the three councillors fail to declare a prejudicial interest, not only did they fail to withdraw, they also improperly sought to influence a planning decision.
After nine months of investigation, the Standards Board for England found all three councillors guilty of serious misconduct, found all three had improperly sought to influence a planning decision.
Two sets of reports exist. One marked 'confidential' and not for public consumption, and a second sanitized set for public consumption. The confidential report had to be rewritten as it was riddled with errors and false assumptions. The sanitized reports can be found on the Standards Board website.
The detailed confidential reports contains extracts of written briefings given to the three councillors, which made it clear that at all times, the councillors had to act for Pavilion.
All Pavilion board members are briefed and given documentation outlining their roles and responsibilities as board members.
The Brief to Board Members states:
'...independent and local authority members may have conflicts arising from business or political interests. However, all Board Members share equally in the responsibility for governance of the Group and when making decisions on the Board are expected to act in the best interests of the Group as a whole ...'
All Board Members had a job description which set out their responsibilities:
'To act only in the interest of the PHG Group and not on behalf of any constituency or interest group.'
They also had verbal briefings from the then chief executive of Pavilion, leaving them in no doubt as to how they had to act.
Mervyn Jones, former Pavilion chief executive, was of the view that board members have a 'fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of the board'.
In giving his view, Jones was simply reiterating the Company Acts.
We are nevertheless, expected to believe, that all three, in spite of the clear written advice from Pavilion, sought legal advice from the Borough Solicitor. Why did they even seek advice on a matter which was so clear cut?
The councillors all spouted protestations of innocence. Although all three were councillors of longstanding, they did not understand the rules, and could only rely upon advice from the Borough Solicitor, even though it turned out to be bad advice. Why they needed advice from the Borough Solicitor on a matter which was so clear cut, has never been explained.
After nine months at taxpayers expense, the Standards Board investigation then degenerated into farce.
The Standards Board decided to let all three off! They did so on the grounds of poor advice from the Borough Solicitor. Grounds if nothing else, for firing the Borough Solicitor (seen by many as useless).
All three councillors let off, even though the Standards Board found that they had improperly sought to influence a planning decision.
All three councillors are experienced councillors of long service.
Sue Dibble is a repeat offender, who has previously been found guilty of a conflict of interest with Pavilion on a planning matter involving Pavilion.
Roger Kimber, at a briefing to councillors by then chief executive Mervyn Jones, called for Pavilion to explain their piss-poor performance as highlighted in a damning report by the Audit Commission, kept referring to we, when he mounted a spirited defence of Pavilion. At another meeting, discussing anti-social behaviour, he was asked his view as a board member of Pavilion.
All three councillors are now let off the hook, even though they were found guilty of a serious case of misconduct. They did not even get so much as a slap on the wrist
This is not the first time this has happened. A fourth councillor, on an entirely different matter, pushed through on committee matters favourable to taxi drivers even though he too was a taxi driver, was found guilty, but let off on the grounds of (you've guessed) bad advice from the Borough Solicitor.
The three councillors have subsequently resigned from the board of Pavilion. All three remain as councillors, Sue Dibble still sits on the local planning committee.
Even David Blunkett, was eventually forced to resign.
The guilty councillors should do the decent thing and resign. The Borough Solicitor should be fired.
But no, they have been rewarded. Roger Kimber is now the Deputy Mayor of the Borough.
These cases raise serious question marks against the Standards Board. As watchers of this quango will be well aware, they are investigating councillors and finding guilty on quite trivial matters, but when it comes to more serious matters, the councillors are let off.
This sends a green light to every rotten councillor. If you do something wrong, don't worry, just claim you had bad advice from the council lawyer.
The Standards Board, having found the councillors guilty, having spent nine months of taxpayers money to reach this decision, decided to take no further action!
The opinion of the Standards Board was that 'having come to a view that no further action should be taken this does not mean that they [ie the guilty councillors] have been “let off”'!
The slogan of the Standards Board is: Confidence in local democracy. A sick joke if ever there was one.
Only the 'sanitized' versions of the full reports have been placed on the Standards Board website. The full reports should be demanded under the Freedom of Information Act as release is in the public interest.
Stop Press: Just officially announced, the redevelopment of Farnborough town centre is to be referred to a Public Inquiry. This will be held at Rushmoor Borough Council, Tuesday 24 January 2006, starting at 10am. Details from Sophie Manning at GOSE. e-mail email@example.com tel 01483 882936
Councillors facing probe, Farnborough News, 9 July 2004
Rebecca Chard, Council trio's conduct rap, Farnborough News, 21 October 2005