Friday, 24 September 2021

Tory bids to become council leader after housing plan defeat

Tory bids to become council leader after housing plan defeat

A CONSERVATIVE councillor from Henley is bidding to become the next leader of South Oxfordshire District Council.

Will Hall, who represents Sonning Common on the authority, is understood to be in a two-way fight for the post with party colleague and former deputy leader Jane Murphy.

Councillor Hall, who lives in New Street, Henley, and is the son of BBC director-general Lord Hall, is a former cabinet member for finance.

The current leader John Cotton announced his resignation on Thursday last week, saying he would not put his name forward in the forthcoming Conservative Group elections.

This came two days after councillors voted against the council’s new local plan, which allocates sites for development until 2033.

The plan includes the Chalgrove airfield site, where Homes England wants to build 3,000 homes but a tenant business, ejector seat manufacturer Martin-Baker, says it does not want to make way but continue with its lease, which runs until 2063. Councillors voted to reject the Conservative cabinet’s recommendation by 17 votes to 10 with three abstentions. Fourteen of Councillor Cotton’s party colleagues refused to support the plan.

Cllr Cotton, who represents Berinsfield ward, said he was “deeply disappointed”, adding: “Months of possibly needless work ahead now and, potentially, a hole below the waterline for the Oxfordshire housing deal.”

On Twitter he wrote: “With some sadness, I have decided not to submit my name for the upcoming Conservative group elections. That means, soon, I shall cease to be leader of South Oxfordshire District Council.

“At least until the elections next year, I shall remain the proud councillor for Berinsfield, Dorchester, and Drayton St Leonard and I will always continue to fight for what matters in our district: decent, affordable homes for young people and families; the infrastructure to support those homes, including sorting out the woeful backlog from years gone by; and a district council that continues to step up, not sit back, when something needs to be done.”

Councillor David Nimmo Smith, a Conservative who represents Woodcote and Rotherfield ward on the council, voted against the plan.

He said: “I have issues with whether Chalgrove is actually the right location. It’s in a rural location and the infrastructure there is not very good and the amount of money the Government is offering to release the site is not sufficient so there’s going to be a funding gap. What you should be doing is building on existing settlements with better facilities.”

Councillor Paul Harrison, a Conservative who also represents Sonning Common, also voted against the plan.

He said: “The reason we’re in a mess with five-year land supply is that strategic sites in Didcot have not been developed so my ward is being hammered by development. When we don’t have five-year land supply developers have free rein over where they want to develop. They will therefore go to the areas which are most expensive, which is Henley, Shiplake and my ward.”

Councillor Stefan Gawrysiak, who represents Henley on the council, said: “The reason I voted against it was because of the risk to the overall plan. The Chalgrove airfield site just had lots of problems with it.

“Oxfordshire County Council was against the Chalgrove site because Homes England had not indicated they were going to fully fund the infrastructure that was required.

“The officers were against submitting the plan and the legal advice was it wouldn’t be prudent to actually submit the plan.

“John very clearly nailed his colours to the mast on option one, which was to carry on with the plan as is. I think there were indications at the meeting that if it went against him he would have to stand down and he has.”

The leadership election will be held on April 12, with the winner formally taking up the role at a council meeting on April 19. Cllr Hall declined to comment.

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