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Brechfa ‘wind farm’ councillor suspended

A community councillor has been suspended for three months after breaking the code of conduct.

Long-standing member of Llanfihangel-ar-Arth, Community Councillor Heulwen Lewis admitted not declaring a personal and prejudicial interest over the Brechfa Forest West wind farm plans.

Mrs Lewis and her husband, John, owned Carregwen Farm – with its land adjoining the site earmarked for the wind farm site.

The couple entered into an options agreement with developers RWE NPower Renewables Limited to allow their land to be used for an access road for the proposed Brechfa Forest West wind farm.

Initially they had been paid £25,000 by RWE and stood to receive a further £30,000 if the wind farm plans went ahead.

Mrs Lewis under section 11.1 and 14.1 of the code of conduct should have declared a personal and prejudicial interest when the wind farm was discussed at a meeting of Llanfihangel-ar-Arth Community Council on January 16, 2012.

The council had received a letter from the Infrastructure Planning (IPC) asking whether they wanted to register to give views on the wind farm plans.

Mrs Lewis should have left the room, but instead stayed and took part in a secret ballot voting on the council’s views over the wind farm proposals – a vote which she said she abstained from by posting a blank piece of paper into a box.

A complaint about her conduct was made to the Public Service Ombudsman for Wales in December 2013 and a hearing over her conduct was held on Friday by the Adjudication Panel for Wales at the Royal Ivy Bush Hotel.

Mrs Lewis did not give evidence.

Her solicitor David Daycock said: “She was confused by the whole issue (whether to stay or not).”

“It was not clear on the agenda at the meeting that the wind farm was going to be discussed.

“She knew the agreement with RWE was confidential and believed she was sworn to secrecy and did not disclose her interest.

“A fog of confusion fell over the meeting for her.”

He argued it was “not the most serious” of breaches and Mrs Lewis did not benefit from it.

He added that she had been a councillor for nearly 30 years and well respected in the community with no blemishes in that time.

However, Catrin Shaw on behalf of the Public Service Ombudsman, argued the breaches were serious and this was agreed upon by the chair of the adjudication panel Mr Davies.

Mrs Shaw said: “The breach was intentional and she used the vote to abstain to give the impression she was participating to avoid awkward questions (later about her links with the wind farm plans).”

Also presenting evidence at the hearing was Llanfihangel-ar-Arth community council clerk Anita Evans who said it was not her role to give advice on whether councillors should declare interests.

Also giving evidence was county councillor Linda Evans who sits in on community council meetings.

She said she declared an interest when the wind farm was discussed and left the room .

“I declare an interest at every meeting when planning matters come up.

“At that meeting I looked towards Mrs Lewis because there was talk among some in the community that she was involved with the wind farm.

“I looked at her to see if she was going to follow me out of the meeting.”

Mrs Lewis did not leave the meeting.

Summing up the hearing, chairman Mr Davies said: “We as a panel take this as a serious matter.

“Mrs Lewis was well aware she needed to make a declaration of personal and prejudicial interest but decided not to.”

He said she did not have to disclose the financial deals with RWE to councillors, merely declare she had an interest in the wind farm matter.

Mr Davies also pointed to a letter she had sent to the Ombudsman after the complaint was made, stating she was “horrified” calling the allegations against her as a “vexatious attack.”

He said that for 18 months she denied the breaches until the day before the hearing which prolonged the issue for her.