Tory councillor breached council code of conduct, report finds

Shay Bottomley

shayb@baylismedia.co.uk
Conservative councillor breached Royal Borough Code of Conduct, says report

Cllr Ross McWilliams

An independent report into a Conservative councillor has found a breach of the Royal Borough’s code of conduct in a document seen by the Advertiser.

Cllr Ross McWilliams (Con, Cox Green) was found to have breached paragraph 5.1 of the code by bringing his role and the council into disrepute.

The breach relates to a now infamous meeting of the Maidenhead Development Management Committee on Wednesday, November 17, 2021.

At the meeting, Cllr McWilliams, who was also the lead member for housing (now housing opportunity), proposed to defer an 80-home application in Deerswood Meadow to the head of planning for approval, against planning officer recommendations.

A point of order was subsequently raised by Cllr John Baldwin (Lib Dem, Belmont) as to whether the Conservative councillor should have declared his private employment with consultancy company BECG as the firm had been appointed by CALA Homes to deal with its communications.

Cllr McWilliams subsequently resigned from the panel, and CALA has since withdrawn the application altogether; however, 19 complaints were submitted following the meeting, leading to the appointment of an independent individual and former monitoring officer of a different council to investigate.

Their report found Cllr McWilliams decided to participate in the meeting against the advice of monitoring officer Emma Duncan, who responded to the Conservative councillor five days prior to the November meeting.

Cllr McWilliams subsequently ‘sought and received confirmation’ that this was advice and not direction from the monitoring officer.

In a tweet dated April 30, 2021, the Cox Green councillor described the Ray Mill Road East application as a ‘big opportunity for new borough-owned affordable housing’.

The independent report stated that it is not ‘unreasonable to infer from this comment that he was supportive of the application’, but that support did not amount to predetermination or bias in relation to the specific application.

Ms Duncan added that she was unaware that BECG had been appointed by CALA earlier that year, and would likely have given ‘firmer’ advice had she known.

However, Cllr McWilliams would still not have been obliged to follow such advice.

The report added that Cllr McWilliams was advised he could sit on the planning panel whilst lead member for housing, although it would be ‘inappropriate’ for him to participate in a decision upon which he had previously expressed views in ‘unequivocal terms’ in support of an application.

Cllr McWilliams was cleared of failing to disclose an interest – which was already on his register of interests – in relation to his employment, and was cleared of improperly using his position ‘to secure an advantage for himself or others’.

However, he has been found in breach of the code for ‘bringing the council into disrepute’.

Cllr McWilliams is likely to face a sub-committee later in the year, where a final decision will be made by two councillors and an ‘independent person’ to conclude whether there has been a breach of the code.

“Frustratingly, I am restricted from commenting on this leaked report until the conclusion of the process. Hence why it is supposed to be strictly private and confidential,” he told the Advertiser.

“I am continuing to engage fully and will of course provide full comment as soon as I am permitted.

“Thank you to all those wonderful residents who have reached out in support.”

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