Waverley’s Conservative group leader Cllr Stephen Mulliner believes Haslemere Town Council’s reputation could be tarnished by the investigation into the conduct of two town councillors.

Cllr Mulliner also believes the town’s Neighbourhood Plan could be withdrawn and be reconsidered.

Waverley’s standards panel has ruled Cllr Nikki Barton and Cllr Kirsten Ellis broke Haslemere Town Council’s code of conduct at a meeting on November 28, 2019. The two councillors have confirmed they are appealing against the rulings.

Cllr Mulliner – who is a Haslemere East and Grayswood ward councillor at Waverley – believes the damage may already be done.

He said: “The public rightly expect those elected to behave with integrity and openness. The Waverley standards panel findings could tarnish the reputation of the town council as a whole and tempt some people to think councillors seek election only for personal gain.

“However, this would be wrong. While councillors are also private citizens entitled to protect their own interests, the vast majority of councillors at all levels behave properly and recognise they must not use their position as councillors to benefit themselves.

“There is also a risk that anyone who objected to the Haslemere Neighbourhood Plan could now argue it was the product of a tainted process and should therefore be withdrawn and reconsidered.”

Waverley’s standards panel ruled Cllr Ellis breached the code of conduct for failing to adequately register her membership of the Haslemere South Residents’ Association as well as failing to exclude herself from consideration of the Neighbourhood Plan by withdrawing from the chamber.

The panel ruled Cllr Barton should have declared a non-pecuniary interest as a Haslemere South Residents’ Association member and ruled she breached the code of conduct for failing to leave the meeting when the Red Court boundary was being discussed.

Cllrs Barton and Ellis have vowed to clear their names.

Cllr Barton said: “I am pleased the standards committee acknowledged my integrity has not been questioned during this appalling saga in which a property developer brought a claim against me purely to further his own commercial plans.

“However, I do not accept the panel’s opinion that I breached the town council’s code of conduct at a meeting on the town’s Neighbourhood Plan over two and a half years ago.

“The borough council’s investigation confirmed how unclear and inadequate the code was at the time.

“Indeed, the code itself was changed halfway through the investigation.”

Cllr Ellis said: “Waverley’s standards panel committee acknowledged I had acted in good faith and conscience during what has been an extraordinarily lengthy investigation at the taxpayers’ expense instigated and implacably driven by a property developer whose plans to build mass housing over greenbelt AONB/AGLV were widely opposed by Haslemere residents.

“I do not accept the panel’s opinion that I should be found in breach of Haslemere Town Council’s code of conduct rules, acknowledged as being unclear and hard to interpret in November 2019.

“No councillor declared an interest at the Haslemere-wide meeting on the town’s Neighbourhood Plan.

“During the course of the investigation, the code of conduct’s woeful inadequacy was addressed and this year it was updated and revised for clarity.”