Wokingham Borough Council Unrepentant

The fallout from the tumultuous council meeting where Gary Cowan resigned rolls on. This week in the Wokingham Paper Wokingham Borough Council were unrepentant over the secret resurrection of plans to build significant numbers of houses at Grazeley.

As Gary said in his resignation statement, whether or not the plans for Grazeley go ahead, Arborfield is still significantly in the frame thanks in particular to the large university owned Hall Farm site between Arborfield and the river. The battle lines are already being drawn with a long letter on housing targets from the Great Langborough Residents Association who represent residents in the centre of Wokingham, and are looking at focusing development outside Wokingham to meet the borough housing targets, trying to protect the small market town feel of Wokingham. Sadly even if they succeed in having the housing placed elsewhere, in places like Grazeley or Arborfield, significantly more residents in the area surrounding Wokingham will still adversely affect the character of the town.

The letters page also includes a letter from ourselves in support of Gary following his resignation. The text of the letter is as follows:

I am writing as a representative of the Arborfield Garrison Residents Action group over the “shock” resignation of Cllr Gary Cowan last week. Put simply having worked, and often argued with councillors such as Gary over the years, it wasn’t a shock, indeed it wasn’t really much of a surprise.

We as a country are supposed to be electing people to be councillors, MPs or whatever, not parties. However, in most cases those people need the backing of a party organisation to get elected. If they are the kind of person who is in the job to serve the public, that sometimes brings them into conflict when what their electors want is different from what the party wants. We have seen this first hand with a number of councillors, not just Gary over the years as housing plans have moved forward.

For many years the Wokingham Conservatives portrayed themselves as the party who would keep housing under control, most notably when they stopped the original plans to build houses at Grazeley. Now they are the party who secretly restarted the Grazeley plans, and secretly bumped up the amount of housing we as a borough will take over the coming years.

As the Liberal Democrats highlighted on the night Gary resigned, he has always been “Mr Arborfield”, putting the concerns of the people in our village above the party line – most notably voting against the rest of the executive on which he sat over adopting the Arborfield SDL when safeguards for the existing residents were not, in his opinion, up to scratch. Take a look back at how often the Executive doesn’t vote unanimously on critical issues and you realise what a brave position he took on that night. He paid for that disloyalty to the party shortly after when he lost his executive seat.

Now Gary, and one other as yet unnamed councillor have voted against retrospectively supporting Grazeley. The party, we now know reacted by deselecting him. If you dig through all the bluster and comments in the press and social media from Cllr Baker, and Cllr Jorgensen, ultimately that is what it comes down to, if you vote against the party line in Wokingham Conservatives you get punished, if you continue to do it you’re out. Gary voted against Grazeley, and has expressed concern over the third of Arborfield Parish that is under threat of development, something that greatly concerns Arborfield residents, and the party has deselected him, we assume in favour of a new Conservative puppet who will dutifully do what they are told.

This is perhaps a question for other Wokingham residents, when it comes down to it, will your local councillor stand up for you as residents, or will they do what the leaders of their party tell them. In Arborfield we now have an independent who is answerable only to us the electorate, what about where you live?

Richard Peat
Arborfield Garrison Residents Action Group

Also published on Medium.

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