Investigation into Hartlepool councillors’ actions over plans for new £300m Wynyard hospital

COMPLAINT: Coun Geoff Lilley and (below) Coun Keith Fisher
COMPLAINT: Coun Geoff Lilley and (below) Coun Keith Fisher

A PROBE has been launched into the actions of two councillors sitting on a council planning committee which met to discuss plans for the new £300m Wynyard hospital.

Independent councillor Keith Fisher and Putting Hartlepool First councillor Geoff Lilley are facing an investigation by Hartlepool Borough Council after being accused of breaching the code of conduct.

Keith Fisher pictured in the area of Easington Road where the vehicle was stopped.

Keith Fisher pictured in the area of Easington Road where the vehicle was stopped.

It follows a complaint by Conservative group leader, councillor Ray Martin-Wells, who has accused Coun Fisher of a breach of pre-determination and Coun Lilley of influencing the way another member voted on the application, which was approved despite funding not yet being in place.

Both councillors under investigation voted against the plans.

Planning committee members are not allowed to pre-determine how they are going to vote on an application but Coun Wells said he was present at the recent launch of the Hartlepool Vision, at which he claims Coun Fisher stood up and said he would never vote for a hospital at Wynyard.

The Conservative group leader said that “clearly pre-determines” any decision he could make.

Coun Wells also said Coun Fisher was given the opportunity to declare a prejudicial interest at the planning meeting, which would have barred him from voting - but the independent councillor said he believed everyone had an interest and that his was not prejudicial.

Meanwhile, in the same vote, Coun Wells has accused Coun Lilley of reprimanding Putting Hartlepool First group leader, Keith Dawkins, for initially voting in favour of the proposed hospital. He then voted against it.

After it was queried, Coun Dawkins said he had made a mistake and the votes were then re-cast, at which point Coun Wells claims he saw Coun Lilley “clearly instruct” Coun Dawkins to vote no.

A council spokesman confirmed the complaint had been received and is now under investigation but said it would be inappropriate to comment further.

Coun Martin-Wells told the Mail: “I can confirm I have lodged a complaint because I, and several other elected members from different parties, were equally disappointed at the actions of the two elected members.

“There was also inspectors from the Peer Review team in the meeting and the whole incident was extremely regrettable.”

Coun Fisher said: “I appreciate this being brought to my attention and I will await further developments.

“I will stand by what I said at the meeting.

“I did make a long and clear declaration which I would be happy to explain once I have been formally made aware of the complaint.”

Coun Lilley said there was some confusion at one stage between himself and Coun Dawkins over a proposal aimed at deferring the application until more work was done on the traffic concerns - but he firmly denied encouraging another councillor to vote a certain way.

Coun Lilley said: “Coun Wells is clearly wrong, the idea of me directing a member of Putting Hartlepool First how to vote is a joke.

“We are the only group in Hartlepool that has not got a whip. I have been on the planning committee long enough to know not to do that.”

Coun Dawkins told the Mail: “Coun Lilley did not prompt me which way to vote.

“I am partially deaf but didn’t have my hearing aid in and I accidentally voted twice. It was my mistake and the vote was re-cast.”

A council spokesman said: “We can confirm receipt of a complaint from Coun Ray Martin-Wells against two members of the planning committee.

“The complaint will be investigated in line with council procedures and it would not be appropriate to comment further at this stage.”

At the planning meeting, members voted by 12 to three in favour of the 568-bed hospital with an extra 66 day beds, 26 wards and 14 operating theatres.

But the committee refused to give the hospital trust permission it sought lasting for five years to secure the funding and a building contractor and only gave it three years in which to begin work.

The council originally granted outline planning permission for the new hospital in October 2009 but a series of setbacks, including the withdrawal of Government funding, meant it expired last October.