A TRIO of councillors denied they had predetermined views on major housing and road issues last night following claims in a Facebook post (Thursday, May 27).
A post on the ‘Stop A29 Bypass’ page claimed Barnham councillors Keith Ballard, John Charles and Christopher Hughes had responded ‘against’ to several questions about their support for a bypass and housing targets in the Arun Local Plan.
They each read a lengthy statement at the annual meeting of Arun District Council, with Mr Ballard and Mr Charles denying they had even responded to the questionnaire.
Mr Hughes said: “I wish to make council aware that I recently received a questionnaire relating to the Stop the A29 Bypass campaign. I confirm that I did respond to that questionnaire giving my views that I held at that time.
“Should I be asked to make decisions about this matter in the future then I will consider all the information before me at that time and reach a decision with an open mind.”
According to the Localism Act 2011, councillors should not make decisions with a ‘closed mind’.
Councils are vulnerable to legal challenges if it can be proved councillors made decisions without considering both sides of an issue.
This does not prevent them expressing a view beforehand but they should not arrive at a decision without weighing up all the evidence, particularly on planning issues.
Mr Charles and Mr Hughes sit on Arun’s local plan sub-committee, due to meet on Monday to discuss whether to raise the yearly housing allocation in the Arun Local Plan.
All three councillors said they would approach all council matters with an ‘open mind’.
An Arun spokesman said: “The head of legal services and monitoring officer received a copy of a questionnaire regarding the A29. It was purported that it had been completed by Councillors Ballard, Charles and Hughes. It was further purported that the above had been published on Facebook.
“At the full council meeting on Wednesday, May 27, the three councillors made declarations at the meeting.
“Councillors Ballard and Charles confirmed they did not complete the questionnaire and made a detailed declaration to the meeting that they accept and understand their responsibilities and will carry out their duties with an open mind for the A29 and all other matters.
“Councillor Hughes confirmed that he did complete the questionnaire and gave his views that he held at the that time. Councillor Hughes further declared that should he be asked to make decisions about this matter in the future then he will consider all the information before him at the that time and reach a decision with an open mind.
“Councillor Hughes then made the same declaration at the meeting as already made by councillors Ballard and Charles.”
Sub-committee members are being asked to allow at least 641 homes a year to be built during the life of the local plan instead of the previously agreed 580.
Their decision needs to be backed by the full council.
The local plan is the land use document which sets out the council’s vision for housing and commercial uses, and open spaces, until 2031.
It has to meet government housing target, with a public inspection of the document due to start on Tuesday.
Arun has long earmarked 2,000 homes for Barnham, Eastergate and Westergate but the site owners at the Church Commissioners want to raise the number to 3,000.
It wants funding from the developers to pay for a Woodgate bridge on the A29 to bypass the level crossing and improve road links to Bognor Regis.
Campaigners have warned their villages will be ‘buried in concrete’ if proposed new housing numbers are agreed.