05:30PM, Wednesday 19 January 2022
A councillor has resigned from his role as vice chair of a planning panel following backlash over connections between his public role and his private employment.
Cllr Ross McWilliams (Con, Cox Green) has stepped down from vice chair of the Maidenhead Development Management Panel following a controversial meeting in November.
At that meeting, Cllr McWilliams was subject to a point of order after he proposed to defer the 80-home application in Ray Mill Road East to the Royal Borough’s head of planning.
Following the vote, Cllr John Baldwin (Lib Dem, Belmont) questioned whether the Conservative councillor should have declared his private employment with consultancy company BECG as the firm had been appointed by CALA Homes to deal with its communications.
Cllr McWilliams has maintained that his ‘employment was publicly declared’ on his register of interests, and that the monitoring officer advised him that there remains ‘no pecuniary interest’ over his role at BECG.
“Having had the opportunity to reflect over the Christmas break, I decided – without third party involvement – to step down from my role on the Maidenhead Development Management Panel,” said Cllr McWilliams.
“This is based on two principal factors; my own mental health and integrity; and the reputation and perceived integrity of RBWM’s planning process.
“Firstly, the scrutiny of my private employment and attacks on my personal integrity before Christmas had an extreme impact on my mental health and were amongst the worst moments of my time as a councillor.
“The cruelty behind some of the relentless social media posts and messages against me were at points intolerable – I had someone say that they were ‘after’ me and that they were ‘out for blood’.”
Cllr McWilliams added that he believed social media comments turn ‘a lot of people away from politics, whether that is to stand as a representative, or take part more generally’.
“Secondly, I deeply regret any resident losing faith in the planning process, especially if my actions had anything to do with that. However, there is clearly an issue of optics that should not be casually dismissed,” said the lead member for housing.
“To demonstrate my own commitment to the integrity of our planning process, and for the other reasons outlined above, I decided it was right that I step down from the panel to focus on my other areas of responsibility.
“Alongside my private and professional life, I have my cabinet roles and am an active ward member; I prioritise where I put my energies and I feel there are others within the council that can take my role on the panel.
“I would like to say a massive thank you to all those residents, particularly the wonderful people of Cox Green, who have shown genuine kindness throughout this period – your warm messages of support were gratefully received amongst the noise.”
Cllr Baldwin said it is ‘is always regrettable when an individual member suffers ill-health because of their duties as a councillor’, and wished his former committee colleague a ‘speedy recovery’.
He added: “It’s not nice being in the firing line.
“As for this announcement, it was inevitable. I expressed my concerns on the July 20, 2021, when his appointment was confirmed at council. As the lead member for housing and an employee of a company that works with property developers, the ‘optics’ were clear to anyone who cared to see them. Had he listened then, none of this need’ve happened.
“However, I can join with him now in attempting to re-establish the credibility of our planning decisions and thank him for making this first, and necessary, step upon that journey.
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