It’s just not cricket. So upset is Ledbury’s deputy mayor, Rob Yeoman about allegations of inappropriate behaviour that he is consulting his lawyers. He says the allegations ‘are based on highly selective evidence and an incomplete presentation of the actual facts.’ Even so, there are some nagging questions that tend to unsettle Mr Yeoman’s denials.
The matter revolves around his involvement in the major planning application for 100 houses on the existing cricket pitch.
Mr Yeoman categorically denies that he appeared as the ‘applicant’s agent’ at the 11 February Planning Committee at Herefordshire Council (see here). He said he was there simply as the chairman of the cricket club who were set to be gifted a new ground and facilities if the deal went ahead.
He points to the minutes of that planning committee where he is reported as acting in his capacity as cricket club chairman. While this is true, the chairman of Planning, Cllr Phil Cutter, introduced Mr Yeoman to the committee as the ‘applicant’s agent’. So why didn’t Rob correct this rather serious error at the start of his address?
In a later claim, Mr Yeoman says that he made his role clear in the first sentence of his submission. This is what he actually said:
“Good afternoon, my name is Rob Yeoman and I’m chairman of the Ledbury Cricket Club and I’m making a representation on behalf of the applicant. This application is not speculative or retrospective but is a considered and natural extension of the residential development of the town. It is adjacent to other development; it is inside the bypass which forms a natural barrier of the town…”
What exactly is an ‘applicant’s agent’? The OED defines an agent as ‘one who acts on behalf of another’.
While mentioning the benefits of the cricket club relocation, the substance of his three minute address focused on a range of detailed planning considerations, citing highly technical NPPF guidelines connected with traffic management, provision of affordable housing, location of the housing development within the settlement boundary, section 106 contributions and so on.
Nobody listening to Rob’s presentation would have had any doubt that, despite his billing in the subsequent minutes, he was there to put the applicant’s case as he stated, and a jolly good job he did too. All those years of experience on Ledbury Town Council have come in very handy in getting to grips with the minutiae of planning policy it seems.
Let’s cut to the chase, and examine who in fact is being selective and incomplete with the evidence.
When Cllr Terry Widdows wrote to Mr Yeoman on 13 February he said:
‘On the reports sent to the county councillors you were marked down as being the applicants agent and when I queried this with officers was told this was what they had been told you were acting on, they seemed to have no idea of your council role.
You also omitted from your presentation to the committee your role as not only a town councillor but also as a deputy mayor again I find this omission concerning...’
Following his polite request for clarification, Mr Yeoman replied on 17 February:
‘I do not know who you think you are or what your role in this is, but I am not accountable to you in this way. Your previous email contains many incorrect facts and supposition and I feel it is written in a menacing and demanding tone not in keeping with council values…
If you read the Standing Orders and Code of Conduct you will see I have complied with them completely. I did not attend the Herefordshire meeting as a town councillor and I made my role clear in the first sentence of my submission.
If you genuinely think I am at fault, then raise the matter with the monitoring officer or point out which section you think I have failed in.’
On that last point, the Deputy Mayor of Ledbury Town Council did not make his role clear in the first sentence of his submission at 11 February Committee, or rather, if he did, it was that he was acting on behalf of the ‘applicant’, his agent in other words.
Because of Mr Yeoman’s startingly abrupt response, I wrote to him on 8 March:
‘I wonder if you can clarify a point concerning your declared pecuniary interest in the Full Pitcher housing development planning application? At the first planning committee hearing into this application on 11 February, you appeared as the ‘developer’s agent’ and it was stated in the accompanying papers that you had already declared a pecuniary interest in this matter to Ledbury Town Council. Can you clarify whether or not you have received any remuneration from the Silverwood Partnership in relation to this planning application please? Also, can you confirm on which date and to whom you declared a pecuniary interest in this, as opposed to your declared non-pecuniary interest (as chairman of the Cricket Club)?'
I did not receive a reply. So in the spirit of openness and transparency, here are some more questions:
The thing is, when you ask people reasonable questions, and they clam up and get all grumpy, this inevitably invites suspicions that there are things lurking in the background they’d rather you didn’t know. So Rob Yeoman, let’s put all this nonsense behind us and have some straight answers from you.