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Row over core strategy flares up at NTC

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Vote confirms mechanism for public consultation to be held next Wednesday despite Conservative opposition

THE political row, bubbling over the core strategy consultation document published by West Berkshire Council, flared up once again at a meeting of Newbury Town Council's Planning and Highways Committee on Monday.

Feelings were running high, and accusations of playing politics with important issues and insinuations of misunderstanding the problems (intentionally or otherwise) flew across the table.

The latest sparring match in this long-running battle was played out over a Liberal Democrat proposal to hold a public consultation on Newbury Town Council's response to the document.

Following the proposed consultation, a response would then be formulated by three people, the leader of the council and the chairman and vice chairman of the planning and highways committee – two of them Lib Dems, one Conservative – according to the motion tabled by council leader Julian Swift-Hook (Lib Dem, Pyle Hill).

Unsurprisingly, this led to wails of outrage from the Conservative members of the committee.

Jeff Beck (Con, Clay Hill) was the first to strike, saying: “I cannot go along with this proposal. On this council, the Liberals have a majority of one, so the sub-committee being proposed will be too heavily weighted.”

Next to weigh in was Anthony Pick (Con, St Johns): “I do not really see how, after a public consultation, we will have sufficient information to go against a document that has taken so much work to draft.”

Howard Bairstow (Con, Falkland), meanwhile, had an eye on the unpredictability of a public consultation: “I am just trying to work out what the purpose of a public consultation will be and what the possible outcome will be. And if we do object, what exactly do we hope to achieve.”

But Mr Swift-Hook responded, saying: “I have to say, Cllr Bairstow is a member for one of the wards that are going to be affected [by development at Sandleford, a possible outcome of the considered strategy], so I would have thought he would be supporting a public consultation.”

He went on to say that there was no point trying to speculate what the outcome of a public consultation would be.

Tony Stretton (Con, Clay Hill) then launched a thinly veiled attack, saying: “I would have thought the importance of this issue makes it imperative that we show that we are not playing politics. We should be aiming to work together with a balanced committee made up of two members from each party. I think the leader should think again in the interest of fair play. Failing that, the decision should go to full council.”

But chairman Phil Barnett (Lib Dem, Clay Hill) reminded him of the time constraints. The town council must formulate its response no later than December 16.

Before calling time on the debate and demanding the vote, Mr Swift-Hook also reminded Mr Stretton of the make-up of the council and said that it is only right that a sub-committee should reflect the Lib Dem majority.

With six Liberal Democrat votes defeating five headshaking Conservatives, the public meeting will now be held at Newbury Rugby Club next Wednesday at 7pm with the response formulated by two Lib Dems and one Conservative.

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