Friday, 27 November 2020

Feuding councillors... or a children’s playgroup?

TENSIONS between Henley Town Council’s ruling Conservative faction and their opponents from Henley Residents’ Group are mounting

TENSIONS between Henley Town Council’s ruling Conservative faction and their opponents from Henley Residents’ Group are mounting once again.

At a full council meeting last week, protracted arguments between the two camps dragged the proceedings out for more than two-and-a-half hours.

Despite a relatively short agenda, the debate on several issues was so lengthy that the final item was deferred until an extraordinary meeting could be arranged.

The biggest clash occurred when Councillor Stefan Gawrysiak (HRG) complained that the joint Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan steering group had too many Tory members.

He was called on to apologise after suggesting that Rebecca Chandler-Wilde, a resident who sits on the group, had Conservative sympathies because her daughter Helen is a Tory councillor.

Amid a chorus of disapproval, Councillor Dylan Thomas (Cons) said: “That’s outrageous — how dare you judge someone by who their parents or children are? You forget that many children develop views which are the opposite of their parents’. If you suggested my mother was a Tory, she’d box your ears. I hope you will write a letter of apology.”

Cllr Gawrysiak responded: “I would ask how the committee’s members were appointed in the first place. Was everyone who took part in the neighbourhood plan invited or was it just people having cosy chats?”

Councillor David Nimmo Smith, leader of the Conservatives, hit back: “Cllr Gawrysiak attended the meeting where this was discussed so why the heck did he not bring this up then? He is pandering to the gallery and grandstanding.”

Cllr Gawrysiak said he had raised the issue previously.

His HRG colleague Kellie Hinton joined in by saying that Conservative Mayor Julian Brookes hadn’t explained how members of the group were nominated.

“Was it by committee or you in the Mayor’s parlour with your friends?” she added.

Cllr Brookes said: “I can assure you they were not nominated by me. They were chosen for their specific planning expertise.”

As several raised voices were heard, an agitated Cllr Nimmo Smith shouted: “Point of order, Mr Mayor, the councillors should be shut up and only one allowed to speak at a time.”

Later, during a debate on charging Henley Rugby Club for a loan to refurbish its premises, Cllr Hinton said: “I’m tired of you lot telling us about decisions which have already been made.”

She was asked to withdraw the words “you lot” and responded: “Okay, you Conservatives.”

Cllr Brookes said: “Can we please stop this now, ladies and gentlemen?”

Asked for guidance on the loan charges, town clerk Janet Wheeler replied: “To be honest, this has gone on for so long that I’m losing concentration.

“I’m concerned that the people in the public gallery have been waiting here for a long time.”

As weary onlookers finally made their way home at about 10.10pm, one remarked: “It has been a long time since I visited a children’s playgroup.”

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