Being a Chichester district councillor for 20 years ‘doesn’t count as employment’

Andrew Shaxson, independent councillor for Harting
Andrew Shaxson, independent councillor for Harting

A Chichester district councillor has not been employed as part of his service at the authority, his colleagues have ruled.

Andrew Shaxson, who lives in Buryfield Cottage off Sheepwash near Elsted, retired from farming in 1995.

There is a condition attached to the property which limits occupation of the dwelling to a person who is either employed, has ceased to be employed or last employed in agriculture.

Mr Shaxson, who has represented Harting at Chichester District since 1999, submitted an application to ‘regularise the situation’.

He argued that his role as councillor constitutes the ‘definition of employment’ and since he has been in breach of the agricultural occupancy condition for more than a decade the council should grant him a lawful development certificate.

This would mean the condition could no longer be enforced.

However council officers argued on the balance of probabilities and evidence submitted that his service as a councillor did not represent employment.

Therefore they argued his last employment was in agriculture and complied with the current restrictions and was not in breach of the condition.

The council’s planning committee sided with officers and refused the application on Wednesday (April 24) by seven votes to zero, with six abstentions.

Afterwards Mr Shaxson said he was not disappointed by the decision, which does not mean he has to leave his home. He will now consider whether to appeal.

His written statement to the council said: “Having given up active farming in 1995 I have since 1999 spent many hours a week on most days of the year ‘being involved’ in many aspects of council work, on behalf of my electorate, CDC and other areas of local government. This constitutes the definition of employment, noting the wording of the condition.”

Bob Hayes (Con, Southbourne), chair of the committee, described how when he joined the council it was made ‘abundantly clear to me that we are not paid employees are in fact doing this for the love of it’.

Carol Purnell (Con, Selsey North) added: “My understanding when I first became a councillor is that we are not employed at all. What we get paid is an allowance not a salary.”

Gordon McAra (Ind, Midhurst) was the only member to signal any support for the application. He said: “In Elsted we have already allowed a  number of change of use applications from agricultural tenancies to normal residential accommodation in the last two to three years. It’s not unusual in an area like this where buildings tied to farming or agriculture have made the transition to residential.”

But officers said the planning merits of lifting the condition were not relevant to the discussion.

Several councillors expressed disquiet at allowing the application, which would be accepting that councillors were employed in their roles.

Simon Oakley (Con, Tangmere) said: “I think to make a decision that says that councillors are employed could have significant ramifications.”