Changes to planning panel are a 'ruse', says opposition

Adrian Williams

Adrian Williams

Opposition councillors denounced an attempt to change the council’s constitution at a full council meeting on Tuesday – accusing the administration of ‘a ruse’.

The administration was looking to change the rules around its development panels – proposing that substitute members for each committee can be drawn from any ward.

This would mean that Maidenhead councillors could make determinations about Windsor planning application and vice versa.

During the pandemic, Windsor and Maidenhead planning decisions were brought together under one panel. In June, it was agreed that the council would go back to separate panels.

Cllr John Baldwin (Lib Dem, Belmont) criticised the motion to change the rules again ‘only 147 days later’.

“And it’s not a comma here or there,” he said. “We’re being asked to tear out the key principle of localism.”

Cllr Baldwin highlighted that this key principle was ‘insisted on’ by some members of the Conservative administration at the time.

“We’re being asked to accept that geographically restricting substitutions presents all manner of unanticipated and insuperable problems,” he said.

“But what evidence have we accumulated in 147 days that bears this out? The Maidenhead panel has met five times under the current terms.”

He referenced a meeting in August, in which three ineligible Windsor Tory councillors were due to sit on the Maidenhead panel. This was contested by Cllr Baldwin at the time.

“Miraculously, geographically qualified members appeared like thunderbolts, which makes one wonder why they weren’t the original substitutes,” he said.

“The complication was not caused by geographical exclusion, but by an unnecessary and still largely unexplained attempt to ignore the rules.”

Cllr Baldwin said he believed this amendment was ‘simply a ruse’ to lock in a Conservative majority on both panels.

“That intent is far more damaging to impartiality than the current arrangements,” he said.

Other opposition councillors echoed Cllr Baldwin’s concerns. When voting on the amendment, the vote was split along party lines, with opposition members voting against, and the Conservative majority voting for.

Also under discussion was a new communications protocol, which leader of the opposition Cllr Simon Werner said ‘reads like an excuse to churn out press releases.’

“[Communication] should be for information, not fictional accounts about how the council is administrating,” he said.

He described this as ‘blatant electioneering’ and highlighted that it would not help rebuild public trust.

“I can’t support taxpayers’ money being used to promote the Conservative administration,” he said.

Cllr Ross McWilliams (Con, Cox Green) decried the implication that communications officers lacked integrity.

“There’s never been a moment I’ve seen the officers [show] anything but the highest level of professionalism,” he said, adding that Cllr Werner’s comments were ‘very, very poor’.

Council leader Andrew Johnson added to this, saying it was ‘disappointing’ to hear such ‘corrosive cynicism’ from the opposition.

Once again the vote was split along party lines, with the Conservative majority voting in favour of the protocol.

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