An Independent CBC Councillor Speaks Out

By Cllr Mary Walsh, CBC Councillor. Toddington Ward

I put myself forward for election as an Independent Councillor as I don't believe politics should sway decisions on what is best for residents of Central Bedfordshire. This has been more than borne out in recent weeks as I report below.

Decisions taken by the Council cannot please everyone but should be transparent and follow a clear path, so those electing us can be assured that the driving force is the best interest of the residents.

We were expecting the Report of the Inspector of the Local Plan and heard that correspondence from the Inspector was received over a week ago. However, CBC are refusing to make this available to the public, by publishing it on the website as they are required to do. The contents have yet to  be shared with all members of the Council, despite direct requests.  Should CBC continue to resist complying with the Inspector's request, I understand the Government Inspectorate will publish this themselves.  The normal process would be that the Council publish any correspondence or Report along with their own response to it, as this is a Public Inspection.  Central Bedfordshire Council is made up of all elected Councillors, not just the Executive, and we have a right to know what is going on and why.

There is evidence of other problems with the conduct of CBC as the last Full Council meeting was contentious and shambolic. Conservative Councillors declined as a group, to support a motion from Independent Cllr Gareth Mackey to help fund the provision of a step free access to Flitwick Station.  This station is being developed as a Transport Hub - but not for everyone apparently.

At that meeting Conservative Councillors amended a motion from Independent Cllr Adam Zerny, in order to deny debate. The motion proposed that half of the millions received from Government as New Homes Bonus (£57 million), be spent on providing necessary infrastructure to support the communities and areas affected by development. This is how government intended ALL of it should be spent but failed to set that in stone.

CBC has been spending these multi-millions on 'front line services'.  Good I hear you say - we need those.  However, the money paid for each new home lasts 4 years. This then becomes a hamster wheel as each one that drops off has to be replaced by another to maintain the income stream. Each new home adds to the requirement for front line services too. This approach has resulted in permission being granted for thousands of new homes outside of those allocated in the Local Plan.  Often in areas unable to support the growth imposed, as they haven't got the very infrastructure the bonus was expected to supply.

The second elephant in the room is that this scheme could be withdrawn at any time and so should not have been 'misdirected', as a permanent solution to Council funding front line services. Unless government is prepared to restore the levels of funding it previously supplied to Councils, we could then expect some hefty rises in our Council Tax.  Cllr Jamie Jamieson, as Leader of the Council and also Chairman of the Local Government Association, had assured us that he was in the bests position to lobby Government for better funding of Councils.  Unfortunately, that appears not to have worked as no proposals have materialised to date.  Should that actually happen, I am sure we can look forward to the reinstatement of the NHB to its proper and intended use.

As a Ward that is expected to provide thousands of new homes, we will be denied the benefits this NHB could provide for our community unless CBC rethink its policies.

Executive member and Deputy Leader Cllr Richard Wenham condemned the motion in what could be described as an almost hysterical response, with talk of Mayoral chains and Bentleys and loss of hedges?  The amendment made, meant that the motion could not be discussed and the decision would be made by the Executive alone - Cllr Wenham had already made it very clear what the outcome would be.

As if this wasn't enough, it was shown on the webcast and witnessed by some members, that the democratic process of selecting questions to be posed to Council at the meeting was being bypassed, and therefore used to deny that opportunity to some non Conservative Councillors - including me on this occasion.

The constitution dictates that the folded question papers be put in a box and selected at random by the Chairman.  The box is clearly shown to be empty on the webcast and the Monitoring Officer was handing the questions to the Chairman. When challenged it was stated that no sorting had been done by the Monitoring Officer.  However, there followed a lot of 'non question' questions posed by Conservative Councillors, allowing long and self congratulating speeches by others in response. It was challenged at the time and I don't think this will be happening again, as we have had assurances that this will be done in accordance with the constitution in future.

Things can only get better!  I have found many Councillors of all parties willing to work hard to achieve the best outcomes for their residents and Officers who go the extra mile to that end too.  It is a shame that when it comes to some very important issues, political tribalism prevents that happening and quashes democracy and debate.

Mary Walsh details

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