Around 15 complaints were made in the week following Adur District Council’s Planning Committee meeting on 2 March, when a controversial planning application for the former Civic Centre site in Shoreham was discussed.
The meeting attracted ‘wide public interest’ and the then chairman of the council, Stephen Chipp, ended up asking for the public gallery to be cleared.
At the time, a council spokesperson said the public had ‘disrupted the meeting’ after ‘numerous requests for quiet’.
“Unfortunately, despite the chair’s numerous requests, the meeting continued to be disrupted by members of the public,” said the spokesperson
“The chair therefore reluctantly used his constitutional power to require the public to leave the room and the debate was then concluded.”
It has since emerged that the total number of complaints rose to 24 and a report before the Joint Governance Committee on Tuesday (31 May) explained that they had been ‘considered collectively as one’ because they were ‘all on similar points’.
The complaints claimed that there had been harassment; a lack of impartiality; and conflicts of interest in decision making.
Several councillors criticised the decision to clear the room with one describing their ‘shock’ as they were ushered out of the Shoreham Centre alongside members of the public.
But, writing in a social media post, the new council chairman Andy McGregor (Con, Widewater), said: “The public are there to witness the democratic process in action, they are not there to attempt to influence that process from the public gallery by cheering or jeering or with foul mouthed abuse.”
The council’s legal officer ultimately decided that the code of conduct had not been breached and therefore no further action will be taken following the complaints.
During the JGC meeting on Tuesday, some members said the information available about complaints was ‘rudimentary’.
But officers explained the reasons, saying: “The identities of individuals who may have been subjected to accusations, the vast majority of which have been unfounded, have been deliberately withheld from this report.
“The evidence considered on each of these complaints was carefully weighed up and measured against the code of conduct.”