North Derbyshire councillors call for a politically-proportionate Local Plan team to shape region’s future
The newly Labour-led NE Derbyshire District Council met at a full council meeting, in September, to approve the formation of the council’s Local Plan Working Group which will be aiming to establish a strategy for housing, employment, and other regional issues between 2023 and 2027.
But despite the Labour council’s inclusion of two Conservative members, one Liberal Democrat and one Independent member on the working group, the opposition Conservative councillors argued the group is not pollitically-propotionate.
Conservative Deputy Leader, Cllr Charlotte Cupit, raised concerns that the Local Plan Working Group should be more proportionally representative of the council’s political parties and she hoped there would still be an accountable public record of its meetings.
She said: “It’s at best, I think, a random composition and at worst, if I was being politically cynical, a conscious attempt to try to exclude some members.
“Whilst I can see the optics as an inclusive working group incorporating scrutiny I am not sure how you can get to a conclusion that two Conservative members – when we have ’18’ on the council representing areas across the district – is appropriate when compared with other groups who have a lot less members still getting a seat on the working group.
“Now, I don’t object to that – I think that is a positive thing – but I feel very strongly and I think my group does that the future of the Local Plan and planning in this district should have more of a political balance and therefore should be officially politically proportioned and as a Conservative group we should be allowed to choose which members sit on that group.”
Cllr Cupit stressed that the working group should contain a broader proportion of council members chosen by each party to be fairer.
The Local Plan aims to address and improve areas of concern for residents including housing, work, commutable employment opportunities, public service access, public safety, the environment, and health.
Liberal Democrat Cllr Ross Shipman also suggested it might have been worth the council considering councillors from different committees and groups and that councillors within these groups should have been able to select their own representatives.
Conservative Cllr Richard Welton argued the council’s process in selecting the Local Plan Working Group was not inclusive and geographically balanced and that the on-going process with the Local Plan would not be transparent because he believes Local Plan meetings will not be reported back to the Full Council.
Conservative Leader, Cllr Alex Dale, said of the Local Plan: “It affects all of us, it affects all of our residents, and I think it would be very helpful to have as much resident involvement in the Local Plan review or the new Local Plan moving forward as possible and I think that is really a positive thing but it has got to be done on a proportional basis.”
Following the May Local Election for the district council, Labour seized control with 28 seats over the Conservatives 19 and the Liberal Democrats now have three councillors, the Independents have two and the Green Party has one seat.
Conservative Cllr Mark Foster said he felt it is not for the controlling political Labour group of the council to choose the representation on the Local Plan Working Group and that different groups should at least have been able to select their own representatives.
And Cllr Dale added that the Conservatives should have been able to decide who represents their own party on the working group, although he expects Conservative representative, Cllr Heather Liggett, to do well.
The council allowed a vote to establish the working group with an amendment that each political party be more proportionally represented, that each party should be allowed to select its own representatives, and that meetings should be held in an open and recorded fashion for the public.
Independent Cllr Helen Wetherall said she was willing to support the amendment to show a political balance in terms of the public perception.
However, the proposed amendment was lost by 24 votes to 15 votes allowing for the Local Plan Working Group to be established in its original form as was outlined by the Labour-led council.
The 13-strong Local Plan Working Group will consist of eight Labour councillors, two Conservative councillors, one Green councillor, one Liberal Democrat and one Independent.
Labour Council Leader, Cllr Nigel Barker, told the council meeting: “I can see it’s going to be tortuous, I think, isn’t it? I can tell that.
“We are going to be playing politics with this for the next four years. But it’s got to be done and I think we all want to build the right houses in the right place.
“And we all have got an agenda on that. Every one of us. Let’s be honest with that. It’s not an easy process but we have got to do it so let’s be mature about that and try and get this through.”
The council had considered a working group with members from all groups, including group leaders and portfolio holders, but despite the benefits of good debate with an inclusive range of views, it was also felt this might reduce the speed of decision-making and make it difficult to produce a consistent message.
It also considered a working group with only the leaders of each political group which the council thought may result in quicker resolutions where consensus could be met but it was felt this may also reduce the influence of the group across the full council.
The council has stated it wants to create a great place for people to live and work in North East Derbyshire, where people can earn a living, enjoy a comfortable home in the district.
It also stated that it is committed to achieving this ambitious Local Plan by building and acquiring more affordable houses to rent and it will be working closely with its housing delivery partner Rykneld Homes Ltd and it will be adding more resources to tackle anti-social behaviour, and review the way it looks after streets and public spaces.
The council added that it will maintain strong values in bringing the Local Plan forward including honesty, accountability, collaboration, respect, and transparency.
In a formally released statement, Cllr Barker said: “These are the things that our communities told us are most important to them. We listened and we pledged to deliver this.
“We are proud to have been tasked by the people of our district to translate these pledges into meaningful action.
“We also recognise that many of the challenges that we face cannot be delivered by the council alone and as such we are proud to work in collaboration with our local partners, other public sector organisations, businesses, the voluntary sector and our communities.
“North East Derbyshire is our home, and together we will continue building a positive place that we can all share and enjoy.”
The first meeting of the Local Plan Working Group was expected in October or November to initially consider the scope of the Local Plan review process.