Councillor at centre of Crowborough planning furore quits Tories

Wealden District Council has finally revealed further details of why  a controversial planning application was brought back for a second hearing.

Crowborough North councillor Kay Moss
Crowborough North councillor Kay Moss

Back in July, the council’s Planning Committee North (PCN) took the unusual step of rehearing and approving an outline application to build 119 homes in Eridge Road, Crowborough, despite the scheme having been refused at an earlier meeting in March.

The council has previously declined to explain its reasons for holding a fresh hearing, beyond that it had received legal advice after concerns were raised around “the decision-making process”.

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But the council has now revealed how the second hearing was came after developers Fairfax Acquisitions complained that Crowborough North councillor Kay Moss had spoken against the application at an even earlier meeting in February, without correctly declaring how she lived opposite the site.

A Wealden District Council spokesman said: “Legal advice received by the council was very clear that by participating in the initial planning committee meeting, Cllr Moss’s actions left the decision of the planning committee in March open to legal challenge and there was a realistic prospect that the judicial review threatened by the applicant would be successful.

“In order to protect public funds, the decision was taken to take the application back to planning committee to correct the error in the process, rather than fight the matter through the courts.

“That has now happened and a valid planning decision was made by the committee.”

The disclosure, Wealden District Council says, comes after Cllr Moss revealed her connection to the case in a letter announcing her resignation from the Conservative Party published on the Crowborough Life website.

In her letter, Cllr Moss maintains that she took advice from the council’s monitoring officer ahead of the February meeting (where a decision on the application was deferred), asking whether she could speak and listen to the debate if she had a prejudicial interest.

She says she was advised she could speak as a ward member but not stay for the debate and that she followed this advice.

This is consistent with the printed minutes, which shows she spoke at the start of the February meeting but “as an adjacent neighbour to the site Cllr Moss left the meeting following her address to the committee.”

Cllr Moss says she was later told the monitoring officer changed their advice as she was considered to have a financial interest so should not take part in the March meeting.  She said she was also told not to correspond with any residents about the application in future.

The council’s description of events differs from that in Cllr Moss’s letter, however.

A council spokesman said: “Cllr Moss has omitted to state that, in seeking advice about the code of conduct before the planning committee meeting in February 2020, she failed to advise the monitoring officer that she lives very close to the application site such that her own property and home life would be affected by the proposed development. 

“It was her responsibility to do so. As a long serving councillor, including having spent a number of years on the standards committee and having attended a number of training courses on the code of conduct, this was a serious omission. 

“When that information came to light, the monitoring officer advised Cllr Moss of the need to declare a Disclosable Pecuniary Interest. This meant she could play no part in relation to the major planning application at Eridge Road.

“By speaking against this planning application in February 2020, Cllr Moss failed to follow these rules. ”

The council statement goes on to say Cllr Moss was issued a rebuke by the council’s standards committee (in a private session) and required to carry additional training following an internal review process. 

A council spokesman said: “The council has not previously been able to name Cllr Moss for legal reasons, but has been clear that there was a procedural error due to the participation of a councillor in a meeting when that councillor should not have participated. 

“As Cllr Moss has put her own details into the public domain, we are now able to clarify the full details surrounding this matter.

 “At all times the Council has sought to balance the right to privacy for Cllr Moss with legitimate public/member interest and replied to enquiries as appropriate.”

When contacted, Cllr Moss confirmed she had written the letter but declined to comment further. 

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Wealden District Council has faced repeated calls to explain the full circumstances surrounding the decision to hold a second hearing of the Eridge Road application.

But, despite repeated public questions from councillors and a long-running FOI saga, the council had previously declined to say publicly what the concerns were, or what legal advice it had received.

That changed at a full council meeting on Wednesday (November 25), where cabinet member for planning Ann Newton named Crowborough North councillor Kay Moss in connection with the scheme. 

Cllr Newton had been responding to questions from Green Party leader Cllr Patrica Patterson-Vanegas, who has raised the issue on a number of occasions since July.

Cllr Newton said: “What is particularly disappointing is her questions are always around this application. [Cllr Patterson-Vanegas] had a full explanation from officers in a letter to herself and all PCN members and substitutes on August 12.

“The letter was in confidence but she and her colleagues had all that information. So this continual public questioning is purely just for the public domain, it really is. 

“The council has not previously been able to name Cllr Moss for legal reasons but it is clear that there was a procedural error due to that councillor’s participation in a meeting. 

“As Cllr Moss has now put those details in the public domain, we are now able to clarify that matter. Even so Cllr Patrica Patterson-Vanegas has had this information with her colleagues since August 12.”

Prior to Cllr Newton speaking, Cllr Patterson-Vanegas was chastised by council chairman Pam Doodes for making a political statement during councillors’ questions, while council leader Bob Standley said she had gone on a “political rant”.

Cllr Patterson-Vanegas replied: “If I am asking questions it’s because the answers that have been given are not enough. 

“There are more questions that come from the answers she has given. Why is asking for transparency a political issue?”