For those of us in Politics who have an uneasy relationship with the Party system, some decisions can simply be too big and potentially too far reaching to simply submit to flawed thinking or make poor decisions that will negatively affect the lives of many people just because someone working to an agenda has placed themselves in the right place at the right time to see it take shape.
At Westminster in the past week we have seen a vote for armed action in Syria backfire on the Prime Minister specifically because he wasn’t leading with the aim of doing what’s right for everyone in mind. Sadly, the party political format makes such events rare these days and many elected members of the Government are susceptible not only to the whims of their party leadership, but also to the advice and direction of officers and civil servants who simply shouldn’t have the power to manipulate information – not unlike the sexed-up dodgy-dossier on Iraq of Tony Blair’s – when the results of that action will dictate policy which will affect us all in ways we may never even realise.
Unfortunately, travesties of this kind do not appear to be confined to the corridors of Westminster and my own opinion is that Residents across Tewkesbury Borough may now be proved to be on the wrong end of one such event through the adoption of a preferred option of the Joint Core Strategy (JCS) for Cheltenham, Gloucester and Tewkesbury at the Meeting of the Council on the 3rd of September.
As a result of a Vote in which I was the only Member of the Council’s Conservative Group to vote against the Officer Recommendation; we may not have knowingly been making a decision of life and death and a commitment to using violence as a means to and end. But we were making a decision which will affect the experience and quality of life for the people who live, work and visit this currently beautiful Borough for many years to come.
The Council has made this decision via what many will agree has been a flawed process which looks like it has been deliberately drawn out and manipulated so that the achievement of aims which are far from what is in the best interests of the Borough could be realised – all on the basis of promoting the risks and fear of what might happen if we don’t – with an obvious caveat that we shouldn’t bother to worry about what will happen if we do.
Those flaws culminated in what some would agree could only be described as a farcical end to the debate on Tuesday evening when the Deputy Leader of the Council tabled a motion to ‘put the question’ which effectively ended the debate well before many Members had even had the chance to speak and give representation to their own Electorate, or before I and some of those Members opposing could seek Legal advice on the Mayor’s decision not to allow discussion and a Vote on an Amendment I proposed to adopt a ‘Single Core Strategy for Tewkesbury’ (please see below).
A Single Core Strategy would see an alternative plan adopted which could meet all of our statutory obligations to work with neighbouring Authorities without involvement in the JCS which is itself a direction of travel that will see disproportionately more of Cheltenham and Gloucester’s housing allocation up until 2031 squashed into Tewkesbury Borough than has ever been legally necessary or morally right if properly adopted.
There is little question that the option of a Single Core Strategy for Tewkesbury should have been tabled as a real alternative for people in the Borough for Members to consider, rather than the silent de facto version is was casually presented as to the Meeting by Officers – if the Vote on the Recommendations had failed.
The behaviour of Officers and some Members at the Meeting on Tuesday strongly suggests that the elephant in the room was that putting a question in front of the Elected Representatives of Tewkesbury Borough Council which asked them directly to state whether they were for or against a Strategy for Tewkesbury Borough itself had to be avoided at all costs. After all, the documented choice of putting Tewkesbury first would have made painfully clear just how wrong a plan is which puts the needs and desires of two other Authorities above those of our own Wards and the People that we represent.
As a Representative of the Ashchurch with Walton Cardiff Ward, I know that I have given the best voice that I could on their behalf and that I have put the interests of the Ward and Borough above those of my own or the Party that I usually sit with. 12 other Members have done the same and irrespective of their Party or Political leaning I applaude them all for their efforts and for refusing to give up fighting for the best interests of the many Residents who they represent right across the Borough, in the face of what seems to have been a wholly done deal.
We can only hope that either Cheltenham or Gloucester throw this madness out when the time comes for them to decide. But with both standing to gain so much as a result of that which Tewkesbury Residents will lose, I’m not sure that we should give that idea too much hope.
If also approved by Cheltenham District and Gloucester City Councils, the ‘Joint Core Strategy’ Document will go out to Public Consultation in October. Further details will be available on the Tewkesbury Borough Council Website.
The Amendment I proposed to the Meeting of Tewkesbury Borough Council on Tuesday 3rd September 2013, which was Seconded by Councillor Gordon Shurmer (Ind. Twyning):
I propose that the JCS is replaced with a Single Core Strategy to address the housing and employment needs of the Tewkesbury Borough Administrative Area. The relevant and core Policies together with the evidence base that has been collected to date that relate to the Tewkesbury Borough Administrative Area should be saved to ensure a speedy transition to the Single Core Strategy.
The Draft Single Core Strategy should be brought before Members at the forthcoming Full Council Meeting on the 24th of September 2013 for further consideration by Members.
It is clear that over 45% of the houses being promoted by the JCS are to accommodate house building within Tewkesbury Borough to address both Cheltenham and Gloucester’s housing requirements*. Moving to a Single Core Strategy, this figure would be significantly reduced which would be in the interests of Tewkesbury Borough Residents.
It is also clear that following the answer that was given to me on the 30th July 2013 and to the Council on 4th December 2012 that it would be ‘possible to satisfy the test’ for the duty to cooperate with a Single Core Strategy for Tewkesbury**.
*From the figures verbally given by Officers during the Meeting, this figure can be calculated at around 65%
**In response to Questions that I tabled at the Meeting on Tuesday, it was also then verbally confirmed by Officers that Tewkesbury Borough Council could meet its obligations to demonstrate meaningful cooperation with neighbouring Authorities within a Single Core Strategy for Tewkesbury Borough