Sidlesham Parish Council chairman breached code of conduct

I am a retired property solicitor.

On July 4, 2012, I was asked to meet Sidlesham Parish Council to talk to them about the law on letting and management of parish public land at the Memorial playing field.

I gave a short explanation of the law and was answering questions from councillors when the chairman, Adrian Harland, suddenly displayed unprovoked hostility, first towards a councillor and then towards me, that cast a shadow over the proceedings and at one point he disrupted them; I never learnt why.

Several councillors emailed me a day or so later expressing their regret for the incident.

The chairman emailed me two weeks later, apologising and pressing me to continue advising the council.

I then recalled a previous request from the council for free advice on a legal problem.

I had begun studying documents supplied by the then clerk when the council suddenly said they didn’t want my advice after all; the subject interested me so I continued research on my own account.

It was plain the council needed legal advice from someone and I urged them to consult solicitors; eventually they did so at a cost of about £3,000 for the drafting of a lease to be offered to the football club.

In the chairman’s report to the annual parish meeting in 2011 he spoke of those fees without saying what they were for.

And in the same breath he referred to me; he didn’t name me but all knew that he meant me.

Some parishioners thought I had caused the mysterious fees.

That was far from the truth; my research cost me nearly £400 in land agents’ fees that I was happy to bear.

I found the answer to the council’s question and told them, but I received scant thanks.

In spite of that I was still willing to help the council again last year.

Then came the disruption of parish business on July 4.

This needed independent scrutiny so, in the interests of parishioners, I placed the matter before the standards board of Chichester District Council.

The assessment sub-committee of the board decided the chairman had contravened the code of conduct for councillors.

The sub-committee required him to undergo, at his own expense, training by the Sussex Association of Local Councils on the code of conduct and on chairmanship, which he agreed to.

The sub-committee also specified the parish clerk must read its decision notice at the following council meeting.

Instead of that, the clerk read the notice at a planning committee meeting.

Though I was an interested party I was not told this was to happen.

The minutes record that only five out of nine councillors were there and only one member of the public, Janet Harland, so it was not effectively made public; though of course it is open to inspection at the CDC’s offices.

No discussion or questions about the notice were allowed at this planning meeting, even by councillors.

I protested that this did not meet the sub-committee’s directive and the clerk told me the decision notice will be read at the next proper council meeting.

Nevertheless, twice bitten and permanently shy, I shan’t advise the council again; I made that plain to the chairman last August.

However I’m glad to say I am now giving our football club legal guidance.

I believe my involvement on behalf of the club will incidentally be of help to the parish because it should result in an agreement concerning the playing field that is more satisfactory than the present one.

I also hope the council find the legal and practical property advice they need; that may be expensive but this time no-one should think I’m responsible for any professional fees the council incurs.

Paul Albrecht

Mill Lane