Sunday, 28 April 2013

Will Councillors Lose Right to Vote?

Teignbridge District Council’s Annual meeting is 14th May , there are plans to change the council’s constitution. Most of the proposed changes won’t be controversial, however items that cause me concern are: Stopping planning committee members voting on items in their ward. Councillors are obligated to consider all the issues and come to a properly balanced decision. Stripping them of their vote is yet another assault on local democracy and further strains the link between councillors and their community. Reducing the size of the planning committee to 15. Whilst in the past I’ve supported a reduction in size of the committee, I can’t help thinking this is a ploy to remove the more independent-minded Conservative councillors. Reducing the quorum of the Executive from five to four — in effect this means just four councillors could make a key and expensive decision for the council. In essence, this is legislating for councillors to be absent, rather than giving the priority to their Executive duties (for which they receive a good level of payment through Special Responsibility Allowances). Scraping ‘shadow portfolio holders’ is an assault on the opposition. Teignbridge recognised ‘shadows’ so that the opposition could keep up to date with current council issues and, of course, if the administration changes the incoming councillors have a better understanding of council issues. The current Conservative administration had ‘shadows’ and no doubt benefitted from it when they began controlling the council in May 2011. Giving the Chairman discretion to disallow public questions – I can’t see any reason to not allow a question from a member of the public. The Council needs to be more open, not less, and complaining to the Ombudsman is long winded and the LGO is already under a high workload.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Planning Pickle

Proposed Pickethead Hill development was unanimously defeated at planning committee yesterday. I’ve asked about the reasons I gave for refusal. It was obvious that the planning committee would refuse; however there is always the danger that the applicant will appeal to the Planning Inspector. The reasons I proposed for refusal were, I believe robust enough to bare scrutiny at a planning appeal. Why didn’t I object on highway grounds? There were good highways reasons to refuse this application, but experience told me Planning Inspectors take a dim view of councillors second guessing the highway authority, and it can prejudice the case. Why didn’t I use the Eric Pickles letter to the Daily Telegraph? I’m sorry but it was simply a piece of political sophistry, telling people what the want to hear and in reality changing nothing. The current administration was elected on five points – number two being to build lots of houses – the Conservative leader of the council, has been quite candid about this fact in speeches and literature. This is a very inconvenient fact for some Conservative councillors, when faced with the consequences of their own policy. We don’t need our countryside concreted over to make a few people very rich; we do need homes for local families. I succeeded in getting the former Inverteign Infants School site s used for social housing – what is today Inverteign Heights. The county had wanted to dispose of it for private housing. We have brownfield sites around the town that could be used for housing for local families.