Motion for "transparency" in planning decisions voted down by Tories
The discussion came after calls from local residents for West Berkshire Council’s planning policy task group to meet in public after they claimed they were being left in the dark as to why certain sites were being earmarked for development over others.
The task group is made up of 12 district councillors and meets in private, and its minutes also remain confidential. Its members who voted between them to put a recommendation to refuse the motion to the council.
Currently, while any formal decisions on development locations are made in public meetings by the full council committee, they are based on recommendations made by the planning policy task group.
Shadow portfolio member for housing and planning Alan Macro (Lib Dem, Theale) last month formally put forward a motion to have the task group replaced by a constituted committee that meets in public.
Julian Swift-Hook (Lib Dem, Greenham) said: “Asking the 12 members of the task group to vote for its abolition, it’s like asking turkeys to vote for Christmas.
“This is an opportunity to make a change for the better.
“It can be a vote for openness and transparency against a vote for secrecy.”
However, the group will continue as it currently stands following a unanimous vote against the motion by Conservative councillors on Thursday night.
All Liberal Democrats voted in support of the motion.
Mr Macro said: “The residents of these communities deserve to be able to fully understand why and how the decisions are made.
“There’s no time at full council meetings to go into the pros and cons of each housing site.”
Lib Dem leader at West Berkshire Council, Jeff Brooks (Thatcham West), added: “Meetings held in secret will always be looked at with suspicion.
“The task group met in secret to decide that the task group should meet in secret.
“You are voting for secrecy and there’s no need for it.”
Defending the decision, executive portfolio holder for planning, Hilary Cole (Con, Chieveley) said: “A frank and honest discussion was had.
“Every member [of the task group] had the chance to vote for or against the change.
“I would like to reiterate that we did have 4,500 responses to the consultation...that we would not have got had this meeting been held in public because people make these responses from the comfort of their own home, in their own time.
“I think it’s a brilliant example of how we can get a genuine response from our residents, rather than responses that are talked up by the Liberal Democrats.”
The debate followed a seven-week public consultation into West Berkshire Council’s Housing Site Allocations Development Plan Document (DPD) which earmarked 36 sites across the district for development.
It is now the job of the task group to make a further condensed shortlist of sites to be considered in the next phase of the process.
It was due to be presented to full council in December, however has had to be deferred due to the number of responses which still need to be assessed.
An updated timetable will be released in due course.