Last night Cheshire West and Chester Council overwhelmingly voted to send the draft local plan to its next stage - an Examination in Public (otherwise known as a Public Inquiry) - so that the plan and its policies can be tested in front of a planning inspector.
The plan has taken 3 years to compile to its present position and is intended to regulate development in our Borough until 2030. As many of us have observed it is perhaps the most important document CWaC has produced since it was created in 2009 as it will shape our community for the next generation. We need this plan to make sure that we as a local community can take control of large scale development. Without a secure 5 year supply of housing land allocations (where we are at the moment) developers have a freer hand to develop where they want, not where we want. The sooner we get a robust plan the better.
Over the autumn the plan has been out to consultation - everyone has had the opportunity to comment on it - and in fact only those that have commented on the plan will be entitled to make representations at the Examination in Public. As readers of this blog will readily recognise I have been encouraging everyone to have their say.
I don't agree with everything in the emerging plan - I don't think everyone agrees with absolutely every page, plan and policy - but I do think it is in proper shape to be tested. I do expected the proposed housing numbers to be tested - and there are many things about planning policy affecting Frodsham that I want to see tested too. I have also asked that the inquiry hearings are webcast too.
At the council meeting last night the Labour councillors looked like they had agreed a plan of campaign. Far be it from me to suggest that they had been whipped - but that is exactly what it looked like. Their basic stance was 7 days notice of this council meeting to discuss the local plan isn't long enough. Oh, and the short 5 page report didn't do the 'bible' of local plan documents sufficient service... When it came to the vote they all abstained.
Of course Labour's position doesn't stand scrutiny.
First all councillors have had the opportunity to participate in the local plan drafting process since 2009. There have been regular meetings of the LDF Panel - where this work was being done. Every councillor has been given a 'hard' copy of the plan documents to work through. I used mine to make personal representations and to assist Frodsham Town Council make their representations too. Then, of course, we have all had the opportunity to participate in the 8 week long consultation process.
Yesterday afternoon I went on the CWaC website where you can find the consultation portal - consult.cheshirewestandchester.gov.uk . There is a helpful button 'Who Said What.' I used the search facility to check out which Councillors had bothered to make representations. I typed in each councillor's name and noted down what I found.
This quick 10 minutes research revealed that only around 24 of the 75 Councillors had made representations. I have to state here that I cannot be absolutely sure that I have captured all the information - but what I report is what I discovered from my enquiries of the website. Only 6 of the 24 Councillors who made representations were obviously Labour party councillors. That is less than 19% of the Labour Councillors on CWaC. 18 Councillors were from the Conservative party - that is just shy of 43% - not great as I said in the Chamber last night - but a great deal better than 19%. Our single Lib Dem didn't appear to have bothered either.
So here we have it ladies and gentlemen - we have a group of Labour Councillors who claim a lack of preparation time for a council meeting when they have been participating in the process for years, and when the vast majority of them hadn't even bothered to make representations themselves even though they have had had all the documentation and an 8 week window in which to make representations.
If ever there was a case of 'all mouth and no trousers' this is it.
When you are bored over the Christmas period do play the game I played - tap in your councillor's name in the 'Who Said What' part of the portal and click the 'Consultees' button. The most important plan in CWaC's history, that will manage development for a generation - and only 6 Labour Councillors were seemingly bothered to make representations.