THREE members of Lyme Regis Town Council allegedly breached the Equality Act in comments they made during a debate when they withdrew their support and decided to oppose the proposed puffin crossing in Broad Street.
An extraordinary meeting of the council took place on December 19 2018 when councillors reconsidered their original decision to support the crossing and decided, by seven votes to four, to oppose the plan.
The crossing was later approved by Dorset County Council, despite the town council’s objections.
Following the extraordinary meeting three formal complaints where made by three members of the public, all with disabilities, who spoke during the public forum at that meeting.
A report by the town clerk, John Wright, on the allegations went before Wednesday’s full council meeting naming the complainants as Adrian Robinson, Joanna Robinson and Lizzie Wiscombe.
The names of the three councillors were redacted from the report as they had not had the chance to respond to the complaints. However, in the public forum the councillors were named as Owen Lovell, Brian Larcombe and Jeff Scowen by pedestrian crossing campaigner Lizzie Wiscombe.
The town clerk reported that he had sought legal advice from the council’s solicitors who had confirmed that the Equality Act applied to the town council and their preliminary assessment was that the council did not act in accordance with the act.
He also reported that the three complainants had been invited to a meeting with the mayor, Councillor Michaela Ellis, the deputy mayor Councillor Stephen Miller, and the town clerk to consider what action the town council could take to address their complaints.
In a letter to the town clerk, Mrs Robinson said she “felt hurt” that the council was prepared to leave her and others at risk by opposing the crossing and she was so angry that when she got home she wrote to Prime Minister Theresa May.
She said: “I wish to make a complaint against the council for not listening to the old and disabled like every other council does.”
In his letter of complaint to the council, Mr Robinson claimed the decision to oppose the crossing would impact on his ability to live an independent life saying it “impacts upon myself to a greater degree than on the population as a whole”.
He claimed the council was “institutionally ageist, disablist and sexist”. Mr Robinson further complained that in failing to carry out its duties and failing to follow best practice, the council was “guilty of maladministration”.
Lizzie Wiscombe, who has a guide dog, named the three councillors in her letter of complaint, but the names were redacted from the town clerk’s report. She claimed their actions were “no way to treat” the most needy of the town’s residents and tourists which the town relied on.
She added: “I feel thoroughly let down by the very people that I should been able to depend on fighting for my right to safely cross the main road in my hometown.”
It was agreed at Wednesday’s meeting that the mayor would write to all members to remind them about their behaviour towards the public at council meetings. It was agreed also that equality and diversity training would, in future, form part of the induction programme for the new council administration following the election in May.
Councillor Cheryl Reynolds, who campaigned for the pedestrian crossing, said it was clear the three councillors had breached the act. She told the meeting she had a video of the special meeting on December 19 when seven councillors voted in favour of reversing the council’s decision to support the crossing.
Councillor Larcombe congratulated those who had campaigned for the crossing and explained those who voted to reverse the council’s original decision to back the pedestrian crossing were only following the advice of the county council officer dealing with the application.
He wondered why, after the argument had been won in respect of the crossing, members of the public were persisting with complaints. He welcomed any training on equality and diversity and hoped this would extend to councillors showing respect to each other.
Councillor Lovell was not present but Councillor Scowen said he was “very distressed” by the allegation. He did not understand why the three councillors had been accused of breaching the act when there were seven councillors who voted for the motion to reverse the council’s backing.