Hartlepool councillors cleared of misconduct over Wynyard hospital vote

Hartlepool Civic Centre.
Hartlepool Civic Centre.

TWO Hartlepool councillors have been cleared of any wrongdoing after an investigation into their actions at a planning meeting for the new £300m Wynyard hospital.

Conservative group leader Councillor Ray Martin-Wells lodged the complaints against former independent member Keith Fisher and Geoff Lilley of Putting Hartlepool First.

Coun Martin-Wells alleged they had breached the Council’s Code of Conduct during a vote on a planning application relating to the proposed hospital site at Wynyard Park at a planning committee meeting on February 19.

It was alleged that Councillor Fisher had broken council rules by already predetermining how he intend to vote on the application.

The complaint was brought after Councillor Martin-Wells claimed councillor Fisher had said at an event to launch the Hartlepool Vision project that he would never vote for a hospital at Wynyard.

An investigation was carried out by the council’s chief solicitor and an independent person.

When interviewed, Councillor Fisher said that despite his strong opinions voiced in support of the Save Our Hospital Campaign, he nevertheless reasonably believed he was entitled to voice his support for such a campaign, which he felt did not interfere with the proposed new hospital development and his determination of that planning application.

He also asserted that at the launch of the Hartlepool Vision he did not say that he would not support a hospital at Wynyard but did say that he did not feel it was part of the Hartlepool Vision, which he felt was an aspiration for the regeneration of Hartlepool

He added his mind was “not closed” and that he felt his views did not interfere with his consideration of the planning application.

The independent person involved also agreed with the chief solicitor’s findings Councillor Fisher did not intend any prejudiced comments although she acknowledged that it was a difficult distinction to make in many circumstances.

Councillor Martin-Wells also alleged that Councillor Lilley had influenced his Putting Hartlepool First group leader Councillor Keith Dawkins who initially voting in favour of the hospital application then voted against it.

But the investigation found that neither the chair or vice chair of the planning committee nor other committee members questioned had heard what comments had passed between Councillors Lilley and Dawkins during the alleged incident.

When interviewed as part of the investigation, Councillor Dawkins said that he had voted twice by mistake because he did not have his hearing aid in.

Councillor Lilley said to the investigation that he had just wanted to make sure that Councillor Dawkins realised that he had voted for the application, as it had appeared from the debate that Councillor Dawkins was opposed to the application.

The investigation found Couns Lilley’s actions did not characterise a breach of the council’s Code of Conduct.

It added that no evidence had been found to confirm that Couns Lilley or Dawkins had a prejudiced or pre-determined view of the planning application.