Southend councillors clash in conflict of interest row

The former deputy leader of Southend Council stormed out of a planning committee meeting after accusing a fellow councillor of a conflict of interest.

Ron Woodley, who resigned as deputy leader of the Labour-led joint administration with the Lib Dems and Independents in March, made the dramatic move after his request to remove Carole Mulroney from the development control committee was dismissed.

Cllr Mulroney is cabinet member for environment, culture and tourism, which Cllr Woodley believes may influence her decisions on planning applications affecting these areas.

Speaking during declarations of interests at the meeting on Wednesday, Cllr Woodley said: “I believe that Councillor Mulroney should not be sitting on this committee. She has interests far and above a normal councillor.

“She is deputy leader. She has interests in tourism, environment and planning and I think that is detrimental to the residents of this town in terms of them seeing business conducted in a neutral way. Therefore I believe she should withdraw from this committee.”

City solicitor Giles Gilbert told the committee that he had no issues with Cllr Mulroney being a member of development control.

Cllr Woodley then claimed Cllr Mulroney had tried to stop parking restrictions taking place in Thorpe ward “on the basis of tourism”.

He added: “I do believe her judgement is clouded. If she stays on this committee I’m afraid I will have to leave because I believe it is detrimental to this committee.”

In response, Cllr Mulroney said: “I would just like to point out that the decision Cllr Woodley is referring to was not a decision of development control. It was a decision of his own then traffic working party.”

Martin Berry, Labour councillor for St Luke’s ward, defended Cllr Mulroney’s position on the committee.

He said: “What Cllr Woodley just said is not a declaration of interest. He is making political capital. Cllr Mulroney does a perfectly good job.”

After leaving the meeting Thorpe ward councillor Mr Woodley, who became a non-aligned Independent following his resignation, said he would not stand down from the committee but he would not attend while Cllr Mulroney remains on the committee.

Cllr Mulroney said: “Mr Woodley has been advised several times my portfolio has no bearing on development control. In some areas portfolio holders are often chairmen.”

Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter