Wealden councillor forced to step down for 'non-attendance'

Barby Dashwood-Morris
Barby Dashwood-Morris

A councillor and former planning boss who was fined £75,000 for making ‘irreversible changes’ to her listed home has been removed from Wealden District Council due to her ‘non-attendance’ at meetings.

Barby Dashwood-Morris, 70, who had represented the Chiddingly and East Hoathly Ward, officially ceased to be a member of the council on Wednesday, May 17.

A council spokesman says this is ‘due to her non-attendance at any council or committee meetings over a successive six month period which, under Section 85 of the Local Government Act 1972, results in the immediate cessation of a councillor being a member of the authority.’

A Conservative councillor, Ms Dashwood-Morris was fined £75,000 and ordered to pay £40,000 costs after admitting to illegally altering a 14th century Grade II listed cottage – known as the Priest House – in Hellingly. She was prosecuted by Wealden District Council and pleaded guilty to six charges of causing works to be executed without obtaining the proper consent.

Charges were laid following a detailed probe into claims she breached planning rules while renovating the 14th Century building. The changes are said to have been carried out between October 1997 and December 2015.

Among the charges she admitted to, was removing a barley twist banister and associated rail and replacing them with a glass panel and new handrail.

She also pleaded guilty to removing a partition between a staircase and a bedroom and replacing them with modern glass without obtaining building consent, and removing a storage area in the sloping roof as well as removing the ceiling to the hallway including the associated joists and beam.

The vacancy officially began a week after Hellingly Parish councillor Gary Hopcroft resigned over Ms Dashwood-Morris’s refusal to resign from the parish council.

While she did not attend the meeting at which Mr Hopcroft resigned, a letter was read on her behalf by the council's chairman David White.

In her letter Ms Dashwood-Morris said the works took place between 1999 and 2008 – before she became a councillor. She claims in the letter that both she and her former partner sought permission and advice from Wealden District Council before carrying out each of the works on the home but did not seek permission when ‘making repairs’ as she did not believe it was needed.

She added that the work was not investigated by the council until the house was sold in 2015.