West Berkshire Council: Hungerford councillor threatens to quit politics in planning row
A DISTRICT councillor claims he has been punished by his own Conservative colleagues for taking a principled stand in a row over planning policy.
James Cole (Con, Hungerford and Kintbury) dropped the bombshell news at a Hungerford Town Council meeting on Monday night.
He told the meeting: “I wrote a 30-page letter setting out my views on West Berkshire planning and threatened to resign from my political party.”
Mr Cole declined to reveal the exact nature of his rebellion, but told this newspaper afterwards that he was unhappy over recent aspects of West Berkshire Council’s planning decisions affecting his constituents.
Mr Cole said the West Berkshire Conservative Party responded by punishing him – specifically by ejecting him from his chairmanship of the licensing committee and from his role on the Public Protection Partnership.
Nevertheless, he said he was prepared to “give two fingers to my political career to stand up for what I believe in” if necessary.
Colleague Claire Rowles (Hungerford and Kintbury) revealed she had helped him draft the letter and praised Mr Cole’s integrity in taking the stance.
Mr Cole said he hoped a current, new regime in the planning department would address his concerns without him having to go public over specific grievances.
Mr Cole added: “After earlier discussions I felt enough was enough and something needed to happen or I would quit the [Conservative] party.
“This wasn’t much appreciated with the powers-that-be in West Berkshire Conservative group.”
Mr Cole stressed that he remains a member in good standing of West Berkshire Conservatives and said: “What I really hope is that acceptable changes are made on behalf of my constituents.”
Council leader Lynne Doherty (Con, Newbury Speen) said: “We have group rules which everyone has to abide by.”
However, she said any reshuffle was co-incidental rather than penalising anyone and added: “If you look at what I’ve done with the committees, I’ve tried to give opportunities to the newer membership.
“It’s in the leader’s gift to decide who goes on what committee and who chairs them. I’m sorry if James feels aggrieved. I feel it’s the fairest way to proceed when trying to keep 24 people happy.”