A second campaign group has reacted with caution to the appointment of a controversial councillor as the council’s chair of planning.
Coun Seve Gomez-Aspron stepped down from his role leading the council’s implementation of its plan for housing development in the borough following a series of spates with residents and protest groups.
He was later rapped by the council’s standards committee over a number of complaints about his conduct on social media.
The former chemistry teacher has now been brought back to a senior position at the town hall.
Today, the Rainford Action Group, which has lead protests against the implementation of the council’s local plan, issued a guarded statement urging Coun Gomez-Aspron, who has previously been found guilty of posting lewd messages on social media, to act with “impartiality, maturity and integrity”.
The group’s chairman, James Wright, said: “We wish the councillor luck in this important role and hope he can now display the required impartiality, maturity and integrity. Sadly there is not much of these leadership qualities in his past record to inspire confidence.
“In an organisation that values and promotes public respect and trust, he would surely be disqualified from such a sensitive leadership role.
“His past disciplinary issues are very well documented, but less well known is what qualifies him to lead this committee. We remain cautious leading into the vital next stage of the St Helens Local Plan following this appointment.”
Coun Gomez-Aspron’s appointment was yesterday (Wednesday) met with concern by residents who clashed with him as they fought a planning application for the Florida Farm North site in Haydock.
St Helens Council’s standards committee upheld 12 of 13 complaints made about the councillor in December, the majority about his use of social media.
One allegation related to him using an aubergine emoji - sometimes used as a phallic symbol - in a tweet, prompting a complaint by the Florida Farm North campaign group.
Paul Parkinson, chairman of the Residents Against The Florida Farm Developments group, told the Reporter: “Quite frankly we are appalled by this insensitive and controversial appointment. This councillor has spent the last 18 months deriding pro-green belt groups in every part of the borough via social media.
“It is only five months since he appeared before the standards committee and found guilty of 12 substantive counts of breaches of the code of conduct. He was censured and was stripped of certain council appointments.”
Coun Gomez-Aspron was cleared of making offensive remarks to a campaigning resident in 2016.
But in 2015, he was ordered to write a letter of apology to a constituent after insulting her in an online message. Coun Gomez-Aspron abbreviated words to form a grossly offensive swear word in a Facebook exchange.
Coun Seve Gomez-Aspron was given the role when St Helens Council leader Derek Long confirmed his new cabinet for 2018-19.
He tweeted that he intends to “ensure a balanced and fair view is heard on upcoming applications and to advise Cabinet via the committee on the draft Local Plan”.
Asked to respond to the Rainford and Haydock groups’ concerns, he told the Reporter: “It is fantastic to be elected by my fellow councillors as the chairman of the planning committee for the next municipal year.
“A role I intend to use to ensure a balanced and fair view is heard on upcoming applications and to scrutinise the draft Local Plan and advise Cabinet via the committee on the subject.
“Planning and the Local Plan are about much more than potential Greenbelt release. We need to ensure we work hard to have vibrant town centres in both St Helens and Newton-le-Willows and also in the more local district centres in surrounding villages. Having led previously on the largest investment in local centres in recent history, I think I’m well placed to do that.
“My style has always been a borough-wide approach to ensure that no local centre is left behind, and that is something I intend to continue doing to respect the borough’s diverse identity.”