Wednesday, 10 August 2022

Councillor accused of not supporting housing plan

WATLINGTON’S representative on South Oxfordshire District Council has been accused of failing to support the town’s neighbourhood plan.

Anna Badcock abstained from a vote when the document was formally adopted by the planning authority at a special meeting last month.

The plan earmarks sites for least 260 new homes and includes the provision of an “edge street” or bypass.

Councillor Badcock made a statement at the meeting that, as the local ward councillor, she would not vote.

She was criticised a parish council meeting on Tuesday.

Andrew McAuley, chairman of the council’s planning committee, said: “We’re reaching a point where we have to consider this as a council because we’re not getting the support of our district councillor.

“We can’t brush this under the carpet any longer.

“She has chosen to abstain and therefore, in my view, does not support the neighbourhood plan. It’s open to interpretation but that’s how I would interpret it.” Benson’s neighbourhood plan was adopted at the special meeting and Cllr McAuley said the village’s epresentative on the council, Sue Cooper, voted in favour and congratulated her parish council.

“Our district councillor has been conspicuous by her lack of congratulations,” he added.

The meeting heard that Cllr Badcock, who did not attend Tuesday’s meeting, and head of democratic services Margaret Reed had sent responses to the parish council but these were not made public at the meeting.

Cllr McAuley called the responses “very interesting”. He said: “My personal view is the advice is very clear and I would say her interpretation has been entirely wrong. That has been her interpretation of the guidelines since day one. We’re at a point where we consider very seriously what we do.”

Councillor Roger Beattie said the parish council would be able to “deal with it” next year, alluding to the district council elections in May.

Members agreed to discuss the issue at meeting of its neighbourhood plan advisory board on Monday.

Cllr Badcock, who is cabinet member for legal and democratic services, told the Henley Standard that she had been told to not vote to avoid any controversy.

She said: “Officers advise the councillors when there’s a neighbourhood plan vote in their ward and, because of all the rules surrounding voting, they advise people if it [the issue] has been controversial not to vote.

“They know exactly what the reasons are and I didn’t have any further questions from them on email. I assumed everybody was okay about it.”

Cllr Badcock said that she was, in fact, in favour of the plan.

She said: “I absolutely support what the residents of Watlington want and as the residents of Watlington supported the plan I absolutely support that decision.

“I am here to work for the residents of Watlington — that’s my primary goal.” In an email to parish clerk Kristina Tynan, Mrs Reed said: “It is for ward councillors to decide whether they vote on an item in their ward unless they have a disclosable pecuniary interest or conflict of interest.

“All ward councillors are given the same advice, which is not to vote on a neighbourhood development plan if they have been personally involved with any of the campaign groups.

“It would, of course, also be open to ward councillors to choose not to vote where they have been responding objectively to different campaign groups or not publicly declaring how they have voted in a referendum.

“Over several years we have seen various different approaches according to the councillor’s involvement and exercise of their judgment on all the circumstances of the case.

“I recall that the ward councillor for Woodcote did not vote and two members representing Thame did not vote due to their involvement with the development of the plan. Other ward councillors have chosen to vote, for example, for Benson.”

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