‘Hold free vote on housing plan’By Hugh Fort
July 11, 2012
Fuming campaigners are demanding a “free vote” is held over a controversial housing plan which would see more than 1,400 homes built in Crowthorne.
Crowthorne Village Action Group (CVAG) feels members of Bracknell Forest Council should be allowed to vote how they choose on the Site Allocations Development Plan Document (SADPD).
The controversial document proposes 1,000 homes on the former Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) site in Lower Wokingham Road, and 400 homes on land at Broadmoor Hospital.
Earlier this year, the council’s governing Conservatives used the party whip system to ensure the plans were voted through.
The system means the ruling party can hold discussions and votes behind closed doors on large projects and matters of policy, while the whip vote means councillors can be punished for not voting in line with the group.
Three councillors – Councillor Chas Baily, Cllr Shelagh Pile and Cllr Michael Sergeant – were all suspended from the party for not voting for the plans.
Cllr Baily has since rejoined the party, but Cllrs Pile and Sergeant remain as independent Conservatives.
Councillors representing the affected wards, including Binfield and Warfield, were exempt for the whip vote.
Since the vote it has been decided the council broke its own policy which states it is not allowed to use the whip system for votes on planning matters.
The borough’s Standards Committee decided last week the rules had been broken and CVAG wants the council to vote again.
Andy Holley, of CVAG, said: “Either the Conservative ruling party didn’t know it was contrary to council rules, in which case they are incompetent, or they did know and just hoped they would get away with it, which shows a breathtaking arrogance.
“Which is it? Either way someone needs to take responsibility for this.”
Cllr Paul Bettison, leader of the council, said all councils used the whip system and insisted the policy was not clear and need changing.
He added: “Everyone, and every councillor I’ve put it to at the Local Government Association conference I’ve been at, said they thought a policy like ours would only refer to planning applications.
“It’s right, absolutely right, for the whip system not to be used in planning application decisions.
“However, it is a vital tool in decision-making on policy, which is what this is. The councillors sign up to our policies when they become councillors.”