This Wednesday (9 Sept), Oldham Council will be debating a motion calling for planning to have ‘democratic control at its heart’ in response to a Conservative Governments proposal to abolish Planning Committees, but to Liberal Democrat Group Leader, Councillor Howard Sykes MBE, says Labour would have had more credibility over this issue if they practiced what they preached.
At the June 17 meeting of Oldham Council, despite the vocal objections of Liberal Democrat Councillors, the Labour Group abolished the entitlement of Ward Councillors to address the Planning Committee to speak about local applications on behalf of their constituents.
Labour also agreed changes to allow planning officers to dispose of public open land more easily, and empowered officers to decide on developments of 20 homes or less without bringing them for a decision before a meeting of the Planning Committee.
Abolishing the absolute right of Councillors to speak up for their constituents and the divestment of power from elected Planning Committees to unelected Planning officers are two proposals also contained in the Conservative Government’s new White Paper Planning for the Future, now out to public consultation.
The Liberal Democrats voted against the changes proposed by Labour; instead, in order to preserve planning democracy, they proposed three amendments to the proposals to require the Head of Planning to consult with the senior Opposition Spokesperson on Planning over appeals made by Councillors to speak before the Planning Committee and over plans to dispose of Council land and property. They also wanted the Friends of Parks and Moors groups to be properly recognised and consulted over the land for which they act as stewards.
Labour voted against all three amendments, defeating them.
Councillor Sykes said: “Labour cries foul when the Conservative Government threatens their vested interests and seeks to reduce their power over planning matters, but they are quite happy to ride roughshod over the democratic rights of individual members to speak for their constituents to the Planning Committee or over the rights of local people or the members of the Friends groups, who do such sterling service as the unpaid stewards of public land, to speak up over housing developments that hurt their communities.”
Councillor Sykes added: “The Conservative Group for its part did not seem to know which way was up. Two Conservative Councillors, including its Group Leader, simply chose not to vote and only one Tory Councillor amongst the four was consistent in supporting our position.
“This just goes to show that only the Liberal Democrats can be trusted to stand up for democratic values in Council; clearly voting Conservative means voting for confusion and indecision. I hope the electorate will remember that when they cast their ballots at the 2021 local elections.”