The Borough Local Plan – very much a conservative vision in more ways than one!

We entered the council meeting Thursday evening for the Extraordinary Full Council – 23 October 2019, with hope in our hearts… there to discuss the proposed changes to the RBWM Borough Local Plan Submission Version.

Hear it all here >>>

We had a reasonable request to put forward to our new Leader- let’s just ask for a couple of weeks to actually read and properly review the 3,000 pages dispatched to us by email over the last week relating to the Borough Local Plan… 3 documents received within 2 hours of the meeting! Surely 2 weeks is not too much to ask? Surely that would be possible in the interests of improving relations, with the new leader making such a big thing of a new broom sweeping clean and the whole council working in “collegial” way… sadly it seems there is a more “collegic” approach, where it’s more about us “fagging” for them than actually being taken seriously!

Reflecting a few days after the event and come to think of it fagging is probably the wrong word, that would actually involve us doing something, all we really are is a minor irritation that in the old days was simply silenced by the ‘majority’ vote at the end of the evening…

The press would announce this as a major win by those in power to ensure they were first to get the story next time… but that’s when people actually read the newspapers.

Today, the game has changed but the actions of many Councillors are still old school, they don’t fully appreciate the power of social media…

  • Twitter is alive during the meeting with Councillors and journalists tweeting the latest news
  • Periscope shares the live event with all those who have downloaded the app
  • Facebook gets the stories out to thousands in the RBWM
  • Whatsapp groups being fed by friends in the audience

All of these one to many, one to hundreds, if not thousands!

Plus many Councillors will have their own blogs and regular readers…

It’s a new world and if “experienced” Councillors keep behaving the way they did in the past then they may find they will struggle to retain their seats when they come up for re-election.

Even if we’d had the information 2 months ago, what could we have changed?

We’re told the Inspector was essentially focused on taking out building land in the floodplain and areas of employment.

With a goal to have a circa 14,500 new homes being built, RBWM made this 16,000 to ensure the Inspector is happy.

Thursday night the talk was of releasing the revised BLP so that the public can be consulted… absolutely no problem with that, the opposition happy for the public to see all the relevant documents ASAP but what concerned us greatly was the lack of further scrutiny.

RECOMMENDATION: That Council notes the report and:

i) Approves the Proposed Changes to the Borough Local Plan Submission Version (Appendix 1), together with the Sustainability Appraisal and Habitats Regulations Assessment updates, for public consultation.

ii) Delegates to the Executive Director, Place in consultation with the Lead Member for Planning, to make such revisions to the Proposed Changes to the Borough Local Plan Submission Version as are necessary and/or appropriate to address responses received to the Proposed Changes public consultation, before it is submitted to the Inspector to progress the Examination of the BLPSV with Proposed Changes.

So is this going to be a question of letting the residents have their say and then, rather than bring it back to the council to discuss, 2 people will make the changes that THEY see fit before re-submission to the Inspector in February?

Cllr Lynne Jones, being wise to these shenanigans, requested that the word “minor” be inserted before revisions to protect residents from major sweeping adjustments being rolled out just before re-submission to the Inspector. This change was voted down by the ruling Conservative majority, oblivious to how that might look to those paying attention to the finer detail!

The opposition’s job is to bring full scrutiny to any decision making and with that vote they made it impossible for us to do so, leaving a bloody big hole in the process in my eyes but they have been so used to working this way.

Before May’s elections there were over 50 Conservative Councillors with half a dozen Independents / Lib Dems, now there are just 23 Conservatives and 18 Independents / Lib Dems. This makes for a much better balance in theory but they are very reluctant to let us participate in any way.

Look at the current set up with the Scrutiny Panels. In other councils the opposition chair Scrutiny for balance, in RBWM that has never happened, even though it is best practice. This practice needs to change. Perhaps each panel should have an opposition deputy leader, that might offer greater fairness and transparency.

These are the things we should probably be focusing on challenging and I think the CIPFA report expected before the end of the financial year, will offer the opportunity for real, significant changes to be discussed.

On Tuesday night Peter, the chap from CIPFA who is looking into the RBWM finances and giving them a strategy for getting back on track said that “members” meaning Councillors who were making the decisions at the time were responsible, they couldn’t simply blame the officers.

We should push for further investigation into the financial practices of the previous administration from CIPFA. The only one they have considered so far is the CC52 line of code relating to Clewer & Dedworth which I brought to their attention in my first question to council back in June and which helped trigger the CIPFA investigation.

Now onsite, the initial review done, CIPFA’s focus is on improving the financial practices and getting RBWM in a much better position for the next financial year and beyond.

It has been an intense learning curve, understanding how the political wheels have been allowed to turn and social media allows for a positive change in this regard, making each Councillor responsible for their actions, there is really nowhere to hide.

This pushes away party politics and makes way for people to step forward who don’t need a badge, however much we love badges, who simply want the best for the communities in which they live and their actions will shine through over time.

I can already picture that new world, where 41 Councillors representing their residents sit around a table and actually listen to what others are saying before voting with an open mind on a range of important topics. A core mission, not to drive increasing debt but to ensure the RBWM can fight its way out of this financial embarrassment and start to spend money, that we haven’t had to borrow, on great projects for the future benefit of all residents.

Thank you.

Jon

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