Thursday, 20 June 2019

Residents group not to join new coalition at district council

Residents group not to join new coaltion at district council

HENLEY councillors have decided not to join the formal coalition of parties that will run South Oxfordshire District Council.

The Conservatives lost overall control of the council at the elections on May 2, losing a total of 23 seats to two smaller parties.

The Liberal Democrats, who became the largest party with 12 seats, have formed a coalition with the Green Party, who picked up five seats having previously had none.

Since then Peter Dragonetti, who was elected as an independent for the Kidmore End and Whitchurch ward, has joined the Green Party’s group and Leigh Rawlins, who was elected as an independent in Sonning Common ward, is set to join the Lib-Dems.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives have been reduced to nine seats as Elizabeth Gillespe, of the Garsington and Horspath ward, has quit the group to sit as an Independent Conservative.

This comes after she was told an appeal against a suspension issued by the local group in January had been rejected.

Cllr Gillespe was one of seven Conservative councillors to vote against the council’s Local Plan at a meeting in December.

The three Henley seats were won by the Henley Residents Group with Stefan Gawrysiak being re-elected and Kellie Hinton and Ken Arlett taking the other two seats from the Tories.

Councillor Gawrysiak said: “As far as HRG is concerned, we will have to wait and see if there is going to be a formal offer of a coalition.

“Although I have had a brief discussion with Ken and Kellie, we would probably not go into coalition but we would support the things that we like.”

A two-hour meeting was held in Benson on Saturday between the Lib-Dems, Greens, HRG and Labour to discuss how they could all work together.

It was decided that Benson ward councillor Sue Cooper, who represents the Lib-Dems, would become leader of the council.

Topics discussed included the council’s budget and the Local Plan, which is currently undergoing independent examination, and whether to withdraw or modify it.

Cllr Gawrysiak said: “There are things that the district council has to tackle soon. It is spending £2 million a year more than it was getting in as income. We have to come up with a medium-term strategy to cope with that.

“We have the existing budget to be going on with but in August or September we will begin to discuss the budget and what we will do with it. We also might know then what grants we will get from the Government.

“With the Local Plan, it needs considering again but it is with an examiner at the moment as it was passed by the full council.

“If we are going to change or modify the plan it needs to be done in the next six to eight weeks. There needs to be fairly heavy discussion on that as there is a range of opinion and scope.”

He said if it was decided to rewrite the plan from the start it would take another nine months and would mean losing out on the Oxfordshire growth deal, under which the county’s councils have agreed to plan for the delivery of 100,000 new homes by 2031 in return for guaranteed funding from the Government for affordable housing, infrastructure and economic growth.

Cllr Gawrysiak added: “To start again would open the floodgates in Henley to speculative development and, from a Henley perspective, it could be a lot worse than what we are expecting now — 150 additional homes.”

At the meeting it was agreed that a formal all-party working group would review the Local Plan and the implications of any changes.

Councillor Cooper, who voted against the plan in December, said: “After these dramatic local election results, it’s only right that new councillors from all parties get the chance to look in detail at what is proposed in the Local Plan, so they can make a reasoned decision as to whether changes are necessary and what the consequences might be.”

Her fellow Benson councillor, Andrea Powell, of the Green Party, said: “It was clear during the election campaign that over-development in our district is a major issue but we must also take care to protect our area from the speculative development that happened under the previous council.”

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