Saturday, 21 July 2018

Neighbourhood plan group accused of bias

THE legality and composition of a group formed to oversee the implementation of the joint Henley

THE legality and composition of a group formed to oversee the implementation of the joint Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan have been called into question.

It comes less than three months after the document was passed in a referendum.

The neighbourhood plan steering group consists of members of Henley Town Council and Harpsden Parish Council and members of the public with expertise.

But Councillor Stefan Gawrysiak, a member of the opposition Henley Residents’ Group on the town council, claimed it was “overtly imbalanced” in favour of the ruling Conservative group.

The group consisted of three Conservative town councillors, the Mayor Julian Brookes (ex-officio), Sara Abey and Helen Chandler-Wilde, Henley Residents’ Group councillor Jane Smewing and Harpsden parish councillor Malcolm Plews as well as Joan Bland, a Conservative member of South Oxfordshire District Council, former Conservative town councillor Dieter Hinke, Rebecca Chandler-Wilde, Patrick Fleming and David Whitehead sitting as members of the public.

Cllr Gawrysiak asked that the group’s terms of reference be amended to ensure the group was less heavily weighted towards the  Conservatives to ensure there was no bias.

Speaking at a meeting of the town council’s planning committee, he said that when Henley Residents’ Group ran the council before the elections in May last year, it had ensured an equal balance between HRG and the Conservatives on the working group devising the plan.

He said: “The creation of a neighbourhood plan was for the whole of Henley and we made sure it was a plan broadly supported by the town. Therefore I think its monitoring and implementation should be similar.

“The strength is in the non-councillors. You have either got to increase the non-councillors or decrease the councillors on there. I would not be happy to vote for this particular structure.”

He said there were about 30 people involved in the development of the plan and suggested contacting them to see if they wanted to be involved.

Cllr Gawrysiak was supported by town clerk Janet Wheeler who said: “I think there should be more representation from HRG.”

She said she had been contacted by Cllr Gawrysiak’s HRG colleague Councillor Ian Reissmann about the legality of the group.

Mrs Wheeler said advisory groups had to be set up by full council, not committees, and that there would be an item on the agenda for the next full council meeting to review the membership and, if necessary, add to it.

She added: “The group itself is not in question, it’s the membership of this group. Some of these people have to be approved by full council. Some of these people have been slotted in without being formally minuted.”

Deputy Mayor Will Hamilton said the group had already been advertised at the annual town meeting.

He said: “This is not the council’s plan, this is the people’s plan. I feel we should be giving more to the people so that we can never be accused of steering this a council way rather than a people’s way.”

Councillor Martin Akehurst said the neighbourhood plan had never been party biased and that planning was the least party political of all the council committees.

Cllr Gawrysiak’s proposal was defeated in a vote.

Councillor Simon Smith proposed having just two town councillors on the group plus the Mayor ex-officio after Cllr Chandler-Wilde said she wanted to drop out.

This was agreed as the new structure until the full town council meeting on June 14.

Meanwhile, Kester George, chairman of Harpsden Parish Council, has also asked for two representatives of his council on the group.

The committee also agreed to merge the affordable housing working group with the neighbourhood plan steering group.

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