A formal complaint about the way the chair of Hastings Borough Council’s Planning committee handled a recent meeting has been lodged with the authority this week.
Confirming that they had received the complaint a spokesman for HBC said it would be dealt with by the council’s monitoring officer who will investigate the matter.
While names and personal information about the complainant have been redacted, Hastings In Focus has seen the document in full.
The planning committee is chaired by Councillor Alan Roberts and when it met last week the committee approved an application for the location of five ‘kiosks’ on Hastings pier. The committee was told the plan was to allow five, temporary, single storey, timber kiosks in the form of contemporary log cabins for retail use for a period of five years.
However, the complaint is critical of the way Councillor Roberts handled the meeting. The complainant believes the committee chair should have declared an interest, the complaint says: “The chair failed to declare an interest despite knowing both the applicant and the agent.”
And Mr Roberts should have exerted greater control when Sheikh Abid Gulzar, owner of the pier and the man making the application, addressed the meeting according the the complaint.
Mr Roberts said this week that he did not feel there was any need for him to have declared an interest. He says he knows Mr Gulzar and his agent Brett McLean from when he was local chairman of MacMillan Cancer Research. More than two years ago Mr Gulzar staged a fund raising event for the charity that Mr Roberts says he attended in his official capacity: “There were pictures taken at the event and pictures taken of us together so it’s all well recorded,” he says.
To watch the meeting click the link below
The detail of the complaint is published below…
I wish to make a complaint to the Standards Committee concerning the Chair of the Planning Committee. The Planning Committee chaired by Councillor Alan Roberts approved the applications HS/FA/18/00900 and HS/LB/18/00732 for five sheds on the pier on Wednesday March 6th 2019. The applicant Mr Abid Gulzar spoke to the Planning Committee and answered questions from councillors.
I wish to make a complaint on the following grounds:
- The chair allowed the applicant to digress from planning issues and make allegations against numerous parties. The chair made no attempt to ensure that the applicant stuck to planning issues.
- The chair failed to declare an interest despite knowing both the applicant and the agent.
1. Allowing digression from planning Issues and allegations against numerous parties
The applicant spoke in an extraordinary discursive fashion to the committee but barely discussed the application. He digressed into his personal background and his seven day a week working habits. He made allegations against HBC, Friends of Hastings Pier, ex-employees, objectors and the public. The chair made no attempt to intervene and keep him focussed on matters relevant to the application.
The speech included:
- Biographical details of Mr Gulzar’s life history
- Allegations that HBC Planning delayed the application and that 30 jobs were lost as a consequence
- Allegations that unnecessary hurdles have been put in Mr Gulzar’s way by HBCwhich have prevented developments on the pier
- Allegations of theft against the public and ex-employees
- Allegations of false statements made by the Friends of Hastings Pier (FOHP)
- Details of a landing stage at Eastbourne pier
- Details of the menu which will be available on boat trips from Eastbourne pier,
Mr Gulzar was allowed to continue in the same discursive fashion when answering questions from councillors. He evaded questions, digressed from planning matters and continued to make allegations against other parties. Again the chair did not intervene.
The chair intervened once to ask Mr Gulzar to answer the question that was asked of him, but the chair did not warn Mr Gulzar to keep his responses to relevant matters and to warn him that he was not there to air personal grudges.
In response to a question from Councllor Warren Davis concerning a Conservation Management Plan Mr Gulzar offered further biographical information and repeated allegations about the hurdles placed in front of him by HBC. Mr Gulzar would not commit to a Conservation Management Plan.
In response to a question from Councillor Michael Edwards concerning usage plans for the new ‘sheds’ Mr Gulzar provided information on Eastbourne Pier, criticised FOHP, praised British traditions, provided further biographical information and informed us of his boarding school education in India – but did not say what his plans were.
In response to a question from Councillor Ruby Cox concerning the existing kiosks on the pier Mr Gulzar did refer to the small size of the kiosks but also spoke of his extensive charity work.
It was shocking the way in which Mr Gulzar was allowed to speak about issues that are not planning considerations. Surely it is the role of the chair to ensure that proceedings are followed correctly? After all the contents of the meeting will be published by the Council and there were a lot of unfounded allegations made.
In contrast objectors are given a list of things that will be taken into consideration when objecting to planning applications, and are advised what comments will be disallowed . Most of Mr Gulzar’s statements were off topic and irrelevant. I am certain that had an objector behaved in the same manner then the chair would have intervened and warned them that they would lose the opportunity to respond, or be removed, if they did not stick to the subject.
It is the role of the chair to ensure that speakers focus on planning related issues. There was no attempt by the chair to ensure that the applicant stuck to planning matters. I have never witnessed any other speaker being treated so indulgently by the chair and given free rein to make allegations against all and sundry.
2. Failure to declare an interest
Three councillors correctly declared interests at the start of the meeting concerning the pier:
- Councillor Webb declared a prejudicial interest. Both the applicant and agent have been known to him for a long period of time. He is also organising a party at Azur in the next few months.
- Councillor Beaver declared a personal interest. The agent (Brett McLean) is a resident of his ward and is known to him personally.
- Councillor O’Callaghan declared a personal interest. She knows the agent from events in Hastings. The chair, Councillor Roberts, also knows both the applicant and the agent. Councillor Roberts has certainly met them both at social events. Councillor Roberts is also a Facebook Friend of Mr Gulzar. Despite this Councillor Roberts did not declare an interest. It is not known why Councillor Roberts did not declare an interest.Might it be seen that his acquaintance with the agent and applicant is at least as strong as Councillor Beaver’s and Councillor O’Callaghan’s who declared an interest? Is it not more important that the chair declares any interests? Should Councillor Roberts have declared an interest?In failing to declare an interest might Councillor Roberts be in breach of the HBC Constitution in respect of the Planning Protocol and the Members Code Of Conduct?
To support the complaint the complainant provides a full transcript of Mr Gulzar’s speech to the committee, a link to a recording of the full application hearing and photographic evidence they claim supports the assertion that Mr Roberts knows both applicant and agent.
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