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img_6563The tumultuous council meeting which culminated in Arborfield Councillor Gary Cowan resigning from the Conservatives and was swiftly followed by the resignation of the entire independent renumeration committee is covered extensively in the latest issue of the Wokingham Paper out today. Certainly go pick up a copy not only to get the full story, but also to support a valuable local independent voice in the Wokingham community.

Gary himself has released a further more detailed statement alongside his interview with the paper highlighting more details about what led him to resign, in particular that following his refusal to retrospectively support the Grazeley development the local Conservative Party was taking disciplinary action against him and had deselected him as candidate for Arborfield. It seems obvious from their behaviour that the local Conservatives want their councillor for Arborfield to be a puppet who toes the party line rather than represents the interests of the people of Arborfield. With almost a third of Arborfield on the list as possible housing development sites, more than ever we need to continue to have a councillor who puts the interests of the village first and foremost.

Gary’s full statement is below – we print it here in full because it highlights a number of areas of concern – for those who are not in Arborfield, it is perhaps worth asking your councillors where their priorities are. If they are a Conservative councillor we know that all bar Gary and one other voted to retrospectively back Grazeley, have not spoken out over the increase in yearly housing allocation, and many voted in favour of the controversial renumeration package at the meeting last week (the full list is in the Wokingham Paper).

Last Thursday (17TH November 2016) I resigned the Conservative whip at Wokingham Borough Council.

I informed the Council that with immediate effect I was resigning the Conservative whip at Wokingham Borough Council after 20 years of loyal service.

The main reason for this is that I deeply opposed the ‘Grazeley Expression of interest’ secretly submitted to Government by this Council for more than 15,000 houses without the public or even elected councillors being informed.

Cllr. Keith Baker, the Leader of the Council subsequently got every conservative councillor present at a secret conservative group meeting to retrospectively agree to the application with the exception of two councillors who voted against it – of which I was one.

The council only admitted to this when a leaked document came into the public arena. Cllr Baker claimed it had been kept a secret as he did not want to alarm local residents. I now understand that officers with some senior Councillors had been working on this for about 18 months.

In addition to this, Wokingham Borough Council has from the 1st of April 2013 secretly been using a new report called the ‘Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA)’ which recommends a housing number of 856 houses per year which was based on a dubious technical survey.

They also added 10 years to the existing local plan life based on these new housing numbers – again without any public consultation or public inquiry.

The existing local plan was valid to 2026 and it had a housing number of 661 per year which was agreed by public consultation, debate in the council chamber and a formal public Inquiry. The Council now see the 856 houses a year as the starting figure for the new evolving local plan to be introduced in 2019 yet no one was told or consulted.

With Arborfield now threatened by 29% of its green space being developed and the whole borough at risk to being concreted over I cannot support a Conservative administration that seems to want to pile on such damage to the Borough.

Also at risk to massive development is Hurst, Barkham and the Northern parishes all because of a misguided belief that if you build 15000 houses in Grazeley all the other developers will up stumps and go away. It is naivety in the extreme and something I cannot be part of.

On Grazeley, Mark Ashwell the Executive member for planning, said for the Western Berkshire area (comprising Bracknell, Reading, West Berkshire and Wokingham) there was a need for 65,665 new homes and the four authorities are working together to explore how to achieve this.

Cllr  Keith Baker calls the SHMA a technical survey etc. but he omits to say without any public or council consultation and in addition Officers are also saying this is just the starting figure for the new evolving local plan so expect that to rise.

If you add 15,000 houses destined for Grazeley to the new housing figures the council are using and the Governments National Planning Policy Framework where there is a legal responsibility to help out your neighbouring councils housing needs the combination of all of these decisions is the likelihood of very large tracts of Wokingham’s Greenfields green fields will be concreted over. All this supported retrospectively by Wokingham’s Conservative Administration. It’s a tsunami of housing waiting to engulf us all!

In addition, the independent remuneration panel that advised Wokingham Borough Councillors on expenses have resigned.
In their resignation letter, they warn the decision made by councillors sets a “dangerous precedent” that is not in the interest of Wokingham’s council tax payers after Cllr Keith Baker asked councillors to ignore their recommendation by the Independent Remuneration Panel to curb ‘Special Responsibility Allowances (SRAs)’ – which is given to councillors who sit on additional committees. This is the same conservative administration that seems to want to concrete over all our green fields and make sure they are properly rewarded for it.

The outcome (to my practically one man fight against these outrageous suggestions) was that I was called into the Wokingham Conservative Offices – for what was meant to be a re selection process – only to be de selected by four Wokingham Councillors and one Councillors Wife. They refused to give a reason for this and I have no right to appeal their decision.

When I said I would stand at the next election in 18 months time as an Independent Conservative – as they had not nominated a replacement – they upped the stakes and suspended me from the Party with a view to expel me permanently.

From their actions, it appears that Wokingham has an autocratic council – if you don’t ‘toe the party line’ you are sacked!
I put my integrity and my responsibility to residents above all such threats.

Cllr Gary Cowan
Borough Councillor for Arborfield at Wokingham Borough Council.
1 Barker Close
tel 0118 976 0281
email [email protected]

Also published on Medium.

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